Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Elder statesman and former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, has said that Nigerians have little or nothing to cheer about as the country marked its 60th independence anniversary last Thursday.
He said that the country has retrogressed very seriously and that the Federal Government seems to have a different agenda other than the progress of the country. He spoke on a range of issues of national concern. Excerpts:
Nigeria just marked its 60th independence anniversary. How do you feel about the country at 60? Do you think we have made any appreciable progress or has it been retrogression all the way?
Well, that is not a difficult question for anybody to answer. Time, there was when the World Bank; the whole World Bank said that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than the rest of the world. That is the World Bank saying so. Today, a foreign Head of State had the courage to talk about Nigeria as a poverty capital of the world and it wasn’t the person’s own making. It was a decision made by statisticians. So, me as a Nigerian; in fact, as a devoted Nigerian praying for the survival of one Nigeria, I cannot tell lies about this situation. We have retrogressed seriously. From 1966 when there was a coup going back to 1945, we were making serious progress and that’s why in the 60s before the coup, the World Bank made that statement about parts of Nigeria growing faster than the rest of the world. But from the coup, and especially since the Nigerian/Biafran war, it has been retrogression all the way. First, the Federal Government wanting to finish the Nigerian/Biafran war fast, decided to change the structure of the country. The structure was the federal system with regions as federating units to isolate the Igbo from the East so that Ojukwu’s command does not go beyond the Igbo. Twelve states were created; and at the end of the civil war, there was no reversion to a structure that gave us that commendation from the World Bank. Instead, they created more and more states, and the states were unbalanced; but creating permanent problems. Beyond just having more states, the Federal Government became the government while others became appendages to the Federal Government. We were running a unitary system. We went to Ghana and people were happy to agree to some kind of a confederation, but really a return to the federation we knew before. We came back to Nigeria and broke the accord. Since then, it has been giant steps backwards for Nigeria. It is so easy to explain it. When it was a regional government, the resources which the regions were using came from the members of the region and no government or premier can go and use the resources carelessly. But gradually, things went bad. The military, in order to continue in office, created divisions among the peoples of Nigeria; divisions based on ethnicity, religiosity, and then while people were looking away from the centre; fighting battles of religion and ethnicity, the military which ruled Nigeria ruined Nigeria by the way it proceeded with the structure of the country. So, while I pray for one Nigeria and will continue to pray for one Nigeria, the case for Oduduwa Republic, for Biafra Republic and for disintegration is loud and clear. But our God can do everything. Nothing is impossible to God who has infinite powers. That is why my talking about one Nigeria is based on the faith that Nigeria has all the powers and that God gave Nigeria abundance of resources. This is because He wanted us to attain unmatched greatness; develop into a superpower and raise the respect and dignity of God’s first creations – the blacks. The blacks are the first creations of God. Thank God He doesn’t make mistakes. Why should Nigeria be His first mistake? That is why I am still hoping that there will be one Nigeria; that Nigeria will continue to survive.
Many calls have been made by prominent Nigerians, including you for restructuring, but the Federal Government has been very cold about it. What would you really make of that odd posture?
I do not know. I called for restructuring. The language, restructuring, may be the problem. Going back to what worked, what works, and what will work, that is regional or now zonal government. That is what will work; and the federation being purely federal; not a unitary federalism. I don’t know what the Federal Government is thinking. Maybe, they are influenced by people who have the wrong idea of restructuring. Their idea of restructuring is resource control. And they believe that with the restructuring, oil money will go to only oil producing areas. This is the biggest lie. You don’t do such things in politics. You manage things to survive. You must build up internally generated revenue for the local governments and for states before you switch off the oil money. But even the oil money doesn’t need to be switched off. Shouldn’t we actually nationalize the mining of crude oil? Should individuals own these oil wells which yield money they cannot use? It is wrong to think of restructuring as resource control. Two, sometimes one is surprised that the Federal Government, whether it is awake or asleep. The South, Middle Belt Forum took the government to court on the issue of ignoring or violating the federal character provided for in the constitution. This has been some months now. But what has happened recently, I understand, that the new appointments made into Customs Service, that eight highest positions in the Customs Service are held by northerners. If it is true, is the government actually awake? Is the government aware of the suit against it on federal character? Or is it just impunity and insensitivity? I don’t know. You asked me about the Federal Government that is why I am answering like this. I don’t understand how it is working and people are being massacred everywhere and nobody is being prosecuted for the massacring. Instead, things that are clear that Nigerians don’t want, the government is foisting them on people – RUGA and equivalent of RUGA, which takes other names. I don’t think that the progress of Nigeria is the concern of the Federal Government. Maybe it has a narrower concern which doesn’t allow it to think about the happenings in the country.
Recently, on Sunday, August 23, this year, there was a shooting at Emene area of Enugu State where some youths were reportedly killed by security agents. In fact, INTERSOCIETY, in its report, alleged that over 30 Igbo youths were killed by Nigeria’s security forces. South East Governors’ Forum [SEGF] has not shown itself strong on that matter. How do you see that?
When this thing happened, I didn’t follow it very much. I didn’t understand what happened. I don’t know what the governments of the East have done or have not done. But I was told that those people killed were carrying no guns. They were not even carrying machetes. In fact, some people said that they were carrying no sticks. And they were just massacred like that. You asked me about the Federal Government before. In what country does this kind of thing happen, youths, unarmed youths are massacred; it is not even for governors of the Southeast to say something. Governors of Nigeria; every state should be talking. This is what progressivism is about. What is done to you, you will not like; you wouldn’t want it done to other people. Let me tell you one interesting story. Russia was fighting with Chechnya and slaughtering the youths of Chechnya. Then, mothers in Russia came together and appealed to the government to stop slaughtering those youths. Do you know why they said so? They said ‘they too have mothers.’ You can see what is there. Only Chief Edwin Clark sometimes talks about what is happening to other people. Others just keep quiet. So, I think, well, Nigeria is in bad shape and we need conscience to resurrect the Nigeria and we cannot do it ourselves. Man’s mess up has gone to the high heavens. It is necessary for us to kneel down and pray to the Almighty God with infinite powers to remake Nigeria; to unveil a new Nigeria which will lead Africa; bring respects for blacks everywhere they are and we pray in Jesus name.
The other time we spoke, you called on the South East governors to take more proactive steps to change the economic fortunes of the geopolitical zone. Not much has changed afterwards. In fact, it seems that your call was not heeded. Do you think that the governors have a different agenda other than what it should be?
I think that the governors are doing their best, the way they know it and in the circumstances they find themselves. There seems to be some fears; fears of being molested by the Federal Government. But, recently, I went home and visited Nkwelle where a luxury estate was being inaugurated and the governor of the state was there. And he made fantastic statements about ‘Aku lue uno’, that is, taking wealth home, and I hear also about many plans to open up every part of Igbo land. And the governors are thinking together also about it. But what we require now, urgently, is a leadership in Igbo land. Ohanaeze is doing the best it can, but we need leadership made up of elders; elders who have no interest in further economic activities or benefits; elders who may be very hungry and yet refuse food; elders who cannot be bought; elders who can decide and send somebody to… so that impunity and dirtiness will leave Igbo land.