Vincent Kalu and Chukwudi Nweje
Former President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, has said that the presidency should rotate round the country, stating that in 2023, it should go to the South East zone.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
Nigeria is groping in a way I can described as rudderless; if a ship is rudderless, it means it moves to any direction the wind carries it. The absence of planning is one of the biggest problems we have today. Take the current issue of this COVID-19, was there any plan by the Nigerian government when it was coming, and now that it is here, what do we have, nothing.
Every day, we hear the Presidential Task Force tells us some details, but we know those figures are wrong. Look at those dying in Kano, Yobe, Bauchi, one belt; but what does Nigeria officials say, ‘oh, it is one ailment, we will do autopsy.’ One month has passed; nobody has heard the result of the autopsy.
Not being realistic is the biggest setback we have in Nigeria today. Example, when Youth Corps members were there before they were asked to go, many people said, don’t even call them in, but the Nigerian government would not hear perhaps that the president is always invisible; finally when they asked them to go, the problem has started, and state boundaries have been closed, and they are there and nobody bothers to check the situation.
Now that we have lockdown on some cities, what are we doing to make sure that those who earn money on daily basis do not suffer unduly? In Lagos, more than 80 per cent of residents earn money on daily basis if they must feed the next day. So, many people are suffering from what I call, ‘hungervirus’. Now, move down to coronavirus, we knew it was coming and we made no plans; over the years, we didn’t build commensurate hospitals, South Africa did, but Nigeria didn’t; are we making any plans to build world class hospitals? I can even give them free advice, if you call Shell, Exxonmobil, and tell them that they are the giants and we need six modern hospitals in one month, they will deliver. We have coronavirus living with us, Innoson Motors said, they could make ventilators, commission us, but what does the PTF say, ‘no, they are making unfounded claims’. Is there any magic in producing ventilators? Every car has a ventilator; all the motor car producing companies are now producing ventilators for their various countries, but in Nigeria, we rather depend on China.
We are moving in a haphazard direction, economic planning is not there for post COVID-19 crises, but our politicians are there thinking of next election. Statesmen who think of the country have gone to bed because their views are never sought or taken. The country needs a fundamental change.
Many people are reading politics into this Coronavirus, giving the manner the federal government’s stimulus is being shared. For example, Katsina State got what the entire Southeast region got. What is your take on this?
There is a lot of government sponsored fraud going on. There is a school in my village, I have been waiting for them to see the school feeding going, but I didn’t see. I come from Imo State. What of these corona virus palliatives? On the television, I see the minister of Humanitarian Affairs dashing people money, and I wonder at this age. You dash them money and they will come back, and the woman said, yes, next month, we give them more. Is that productive? You have small and medium enterprises that have closed down, all you have to do is to find away to encourage them to produce. You see somebody with a small company producing cosmetics, he doesn’t do it alone, he has people who work for him; he may also have casual workers, the money will go round if you give him that N20,000, but not in Nigeria. Now, look at Innoson offering to produce ventilators; is there anywhere you have vehicle without ventilators, if you are producing fridge and air conditioners, you can as well produce ventilators. There is no magic in producing ventilators. Look at Mercedes helping the German government in producing ventilators, the owners of the new Rolls Royce are doing the same thing in America, but in Nigeria we have not done that.
Look at even the bigger problem, the testing. We are testing 10,000 of a population of 200 million, and we are jubilating that we are trying; are we making efforts to test 100,000 everyday; UK talks of 150,000 everyday, America is fighting itself, the president is doing the grandstanding, the doctors are there doing their best, but in Nigeria, those who take decisions are having their siesta, and are having the word, ‘Don’t Disturb’ enshrined on their doors. This country is in serious trouble. Look at those who claimed they have produced vaccines, but I know that Prof Maurice Iwu has been on this research for years (actually that is his specialization). Corona virus is not a new thing; the World Health Organisation has been with him trying to produce ways of controlling it long before this COVID-19 sprang up, and now what do we do with him? I know that two ministers visited him and said very soon. He is there. What is wrong with them saying, ‘let’s go practical’, he is highly respected in the world of research, but we rather take an aloof stand and say, ‘we don’t trust anybody’. I’m not talking about these people who make outrageous claims on the pages of newspapers every day, you must have a pedigree; you must understand what coronavirus is. Now we are thinking of going to Madagascar and they have donated, we are jubilating, even when WHO has said it has not been tested. Look at what is going on in Northern Nigeria, what are you hiding? Nigerian government is not serious.
People are raising fears over the movement of suspected Almajirai to the South; do you also join in their sentiments?
The governors of Kaduna and Kano states have said they want to end Almajirai. When Jonathan was there, he built schools for them and said this thing cannot continue, let us work on it, but these two governors were among the people who made fun of him, and those schools were abandoned and left for grasses to take over.
Back to today’s reality, having used these boys for elections, they would not take care of their health needs. The governor of Kano State told them to go back to their states; suddenly, Almajirai have states, and they were duly bundled into vehicles and what does that mean, it means that you are spreading Coronavirus to various states. It was Kano that was distributing Coronavirus drugs in bottles; it was in the same Kano that people after bathing, drink the water believing that it cures the disease. Kaduna governor raised the alarm that nine of the Almajirai were positive. Some states like Taraba rejected them and suddenly we heard that they are now moving South. You can imagine a ten-year old boy who has lived all his life in Kano, suddenly finds his way in Imo State. They were transported in trailers carrying foodstuff. Spreading Coronavirus is one aspect.
The more troubling aspect is the picture I saw today, where those boys were being brought out from a vehicle carrying bags of rice (they were hidden under the bags), they were no boys, they were men and look like soldiers; they look fit and trim and were jumping down as trained people. My worry is that the governors in South East, even South-South are not standing to challenge this, even as President Buhari has banned interstate travel, and one Northerner, Yerima or another person threatened the Igbo for rejecting Almajirai. All the states in the South and Middle Belt are rejecting them, why will this Yerima single out Igbo; he didn’t attack the Yoruba, the Edo people, the Ijaw, but the Igbo because there is a pathological hatred of the Igbo that exists in the minds of some of these people. As long as they continue to create disharmony between the Igbo and others, they are satisfied in their life long mission.
Igbo will never be disillusioned by all kinds of talebearers. I have to blame those who give them publicity because you don’t threaten a whole tribe by saying we will levy war on you. This is Coronavirus era, Igbo are not travelling; in Alaigbo, if you are returning, they want to know where you are coming from because people don’t want Coronavirus in their villages.
The national effort to contain Almajirai spread of Coronavirus is being threatened by anti Hausa activity. The disease doesn’t distinguish between Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw etc, when it comes, it comes.
My major concern is that those able bodied men who are now arriving in Igbo land, what are they doing? My position is very simple; if you are Almajiri, please, go back home; if you are one of those sent to Alaigbo for trouble, go to your home. This is Coronavirus era, you don’t just get up and enter a bus; you must know where you are going. If you want to cause mayhem, you will not succeed. Fifty years ago, we came out from war and we are wiser.
Are you satisfied with the way the South East governors are handling the security of Alaigbo?
I’m not satisfied. They take one step forward and take another backward. It doesn’t make sense. Yoruba has Amotekun, what do we have in the South East? As it is today, people walk in and walk out, and I’m calling on the President General of Ohanaeze to do the best he can to rally the people round because we must never fold our arms and wait for other people to come and descend on us.
Less than seven months, the tenure of the President General of Ohanaeze, Nnia Nwodo will come to an end, the presidency of the organization will berth in Imo, what type of successor do you expect?
One basic fact is that it is very difficult for anybody to fill the shoes of Nnia Nwodo; extremely difficult. That man is spectacular; he is an orator, bold and fearless. As it is coming to Imo State, we are working hard to make sure we present the best. The only plea I have is that let there be no imposition by any governor. The state has over 20 people who are credible. Nwodo has been an exemplary leader.
You have noted that the country is in trouble, then how do we bring it out from the woods?
Nigeria is very much blessed with tremendous talents. We have very good people and we have bad people as well. As president, your job is to choose the best brains. Before you assume office, you must have gone to campaigns at the nooks and crannies of the country, you must know all the bad roads, but the moment you are sworn in as the president or governor, there is something that covers your eyes and you now rely on people who tell you things; one adviser will tell you that Igbo don’t like you, another one will tell you Yoruba hate you, another will tell you that Hausa-Fulani are plotting against you, then you no longer use your brain.
So long as you choose the best brains, then you have the best advice, but when you do it wrongly as we have it presently, where you have nine ministers from the North West and all of them have ministries in full control, while in South East you have six ministers and only three have full control of ministries – Labour, Science and Technology and Foreign Affairs, you think that is equality?
For anybody who is appointing anybody before you make a choice, you should know that it is your decision; if you want the best brains, the choice is yours, if you want people who are lackadaisical, the choice is yours. The choice of who you work with matters a lot. Let me give you one simple example, the renovation of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, was mishandled by the Aviation minister. There is no rocket science in the renovation of airport; should it take more than six weeks, but it is one year since that airport was closed down. Those whose businesses are related to that airport are ruined. The minister for this and that, how many of them have addressed core issues.
Look at those in the state, the easiest way to make a name as a governor is to be given a state that needs a lot of work, you make your name, but if you enjoy the perks of the office without the burden, then you are condemned, and be seen as another passerby. We keep talking about Mbakwe because he was body and soul in his work and he never dropped his plough. You know a place called Ozu Item, he was going for campaigns in 1983, but the road was bad and he couldn’t go, he sent words to the people that because of this bad road that he couldn’t come and promised that if he was re-elected, he would fix the road, and he did. That government lasted only three months before Buhari overthrew it; he came by helicopter, landed there, addressed the people and contractors moved in. That is called credibility. I don’t know whether such men are still around.
Various groups are agitating for presidency in 2023, some argue that it should be open for the best from any zone to have it. What is your position?
In 1999, the nation gathered and took a decision and said South West should produce the president and there is nothing wrong with the nation gathering again to say that the South East should also produce the president.
In 2007, North West came up both in PDP and ANPP, the precursor of APC. Now that 2023 is around the corner, some people are talking what they don’t know. Do we have the best today, no? Let power go round, what comes around must go round. Let it come to the South East and thereafter to the North East /Middle Belt. Power must go round; nobody should be cheated.