Former Health Minister, Prof ABC Nwosu has warned the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against breaching the agreement of power rotation between the North and the South, the pillar on which the party was founded. According to him, ‘if this agreement is broken, I’m not sure that there will be a PDP.’
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the founding member of the party and former Political Adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, said Governor Dave Umahi, who left the party for the All Progressives Congress (APC), may defeat himself if APC also hasn’t zoned the presidency to Southeast.
How do you assess Nigeria’s current challenges?
We are experiencing challenges on three fronts. The first is that Nigeria has deviated from the agreement of our founding fathers on federalism and everything about the constitution we had at independence. Anybody who does that is likely to have problems. The agreement we had that led to the constitution that was gazetted in 1959 by the British, was well agreed upon and it took several years to arrive at. That constitution upon which we got independence in 1960, has Federal Constitution first; Northern Constitution, second; Western Constitution, third and Eastern Constitution, fourth; they were bound as one inseparable volume.
Now, they have an almighty federal constitution and the federating units have become inconsequential and that is why we cannot progress until we restructure. Those who say they don’t know what restructuring means are either dishonest or they are benefiting from the bad structure and the advantages it gives them. Do they really know how we got independence?
The second front is that our educational system is completely messed up. We haven’t been able to produce the skill and the expertise that we need to develop Nigeria. In 1960, Nigeria was at the level of countries like South Korea. Korea then had Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), we didn’t have any. You can see how Korea has developed; you can see Daewoo Corporation, you can see Samsung industries. We haven’t even succeeded in having foundries and iron products. We have no foundry in Nigeria that can melt irons. Therefore, you don’t have the skills and the expertise, which will help us for example, build ocean going ships. We can’t even make our own railways.
The third reason is that a country is developed using the energies, the sills and the boldness of its youths, but in Nigeria, we have our youths and the leadership has not managed to find an effective way to harness these energies of the youths and channel them into meaningful development.
These three reasons have been responsible for our challenges; no vision to harnessing our youths, their energies and their skills.
You mentioned deviation from the agreement of the founding fathers, as a way of going back to the basics, the song most people are singing is restructuring, but this is what the president doesn’t want to hear. Where does this lead us?
I like the General in America, who said their oath is to the country and not to individuals. President Buhari having won election and being president of Nigeria should have all the rights and privileges as the president, but anybody who equates President Buhari with Nigeria is making a grievous mistake; and if he believes or equates himself with Nigeria he is in for a shock because he is not. If he doesn’t like restructuring that is his own business, but that is what the majority wants. If you take it at micro level, the Southeast wants restructuring more than oxygen; the same with the Southwest, South-South and the Middle Belt; elements of Northeast and Northwest want restructuring. There is a lot of double speak about restructuring, but it doesn’t matter because for many of them, there are six pieces of meat inside a soup and they have been eating five and in some occasions, the six. They are quite happy with it; they don’t see if it is right or wrong; they don’t see whether it is equitable or not. The fact is that the six pieces of meat being owned by the six people they are dinning with on the same table are being eaten by one person and that one person thinks because he has a gun or thinks that he has the votes that it can be sustained for eternity, but it cannot.
The second thing I find pitiful about those who say no to restructuring is that it numbs them; reduces the energy which they require in order to develop. So, instead of getting as many PhDs, engineers and all that, they are looking at how much they get, they put in their pockets, what they will use in building roads, bridges, etc as if that is development. It is a pity. Let me tell you what happens once that agreement came in to being because of the constitution of 1959. The West under Chief Awolowo built the first television station in Africa, less than a year, Okpara in the East had his own. That is healthy competition. Okpara said, these are the schools I have; these are the people who had Division One, and he started developing the skills and Eastern Nigeria was the fastest growing economy. People forget that once upon a time, the largest market in the entire West Africa, seen as a wonder in Africa was the Onitsha Market. It was built by the Eastern Nigeria government with the Federal government. These are developments. The market was burnt during the civil war, but it hasn’t been replaced. If you have a restructured economy, a restructured country, the Southeast region would have developed without waiting for the federal government.
Those who say they will not do it, I will only remind them that it is not a matter of a proverb where I come from, ‘that if you hold something very high so that others will not get it because you are very tall and eating it yourself, after a time, fatigue sets in on the muscles, it will drop and everybody will have it.’ They can only delay it, but they can’t stop it.
You can’t stop a faulty structure from falling down. When the structure is faulty not only in one respect, but in so many respects – it is faulty that people do not have the right to design their own development agenda. It is faulty that people don’t have resource control any more, it is faulty in the sence that we have so many children out of school in a developing country and we don’t see anything wrong in it. It will fall. We heard of collapsed buildings it is because the structure is wrong. I thought they will understand it this way, that those who are talking of faulty structure are not people who are trying to be the president of Nigeria or trying to be ministers tomorrow or to have political power the next day. It is not so; it is people who genuinely worry about Nigeria and its progress.
If the president likes let him dump the reports of all the conferences into a dust bin, he is the president for the next three years and he will not be anymore. If the people supporting him say they won’t hear what the 2014 Confab report says let them not hear because it was set up by Jonathan and they are calling for another one. All I want to remind them is that because of June 12 crisis, Abacha called a conference and got it elected and promised constituent powers to that elected conference. The East attended with full force with Ojukwu, Ekwueme, everybody; the North attended in full force, the West boycotted it, but some attended. That constitution (I have a copy), were it published, we would have a rotational presidency in the constitution. We would have had three elected presidents, vice presidents; one from the zone of the president and a lot of other things. Why I chose this is that the present argument of whether to rotate the presidency to the South will not be on. Secondly, the problem created by Jonathan succession of Yar’Adua would not have occurred and there would have been no need for Doctrine of Necessity. When they say referendum or whatever is not in the constitution, wherein was the Doctrine of Necessity in the constitution? So when you hear the people because they were lucky to be elected into the parliament and they make some asinine argument you wonder what it is. Look at their quality both in Senate, which is retirement house for failed governors and the House of Representatives. They say that a constitutional conference attended by labour leaders, the best legal minds in the country, the most respected traditional rulers, the first administration ministers like Akinjide , and all that was headed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Kutigi and former Foreign Affairs minister, Bolaji Akinyemi, doesn’t make sense to them; there is not one single thing they can pick from there. If you ask many of them, how the resource sharing formula was got at independence, they don’t know. How many people know that the Colonial masters set up a commission under Raiss Man; in the Raiss Man Commission (I got the report from Dr Pius Okigbo) 50 per cent went to region, 20 per cent to Federal Government and 30 per cent to the Federation Account. When you are elected by the people, it doesn’t make you the most knowledgeable human being in that society and the only one who can talk for everybody. My final check, I know that people like us who have passed 75 years of age don’t have many more years, so we can pass on these problems to our children including their own children. But it will be done because without it the house will collapse.
You mentioned rotational presidency; you so much hope that the Southeast will produce the president in 2023, but feelers we are getting is that PDP, your party, has zoned the presidency to the North, which is forcing Governor Umahi to leave the party for APC. How do you reconcile this?
The ignorant will do whatever they want to do. That constitution I spoke about earlier was presented by Justice Kabyri White to Abacha for his signature. The chairman of the commission was Justice Kawu and the deputy was Joseph Wayas. Section 232 was specific on rotation that ‘the presidency of Nigeria shall rotate between the North and the South.’ That’s what was agreed at a conference where you had Yar’ Adua, Olushola Saraki, Tunji Otegbeye and many others. I was the chairman of the Igbo secretariat that serviced the Igbo delegates. When Ekwueme moved motion for rotational presidency, Katakata broke out, and at the end, everybody agreed that Nigeria needed to stay together and so an agreement was reached that the presidency will rotate between the North and the South. That is what is there.
There is no where agreement was reached even in the 2014, which I was a member of Committee Number One on the Devolution of Power. It has never been agreed what will be the federating unit. Those who say that presidency shall rotate among the zones, it wasn’t in 1995 and I know it wasn’t in 2014. That is the position of the East, but the position of Nigeria is that it shall rotate between the North and the South.
We expect that when it comes to the South, the West will because the East gave support to them, reciprocate; we expect that the South-South because the East was the bulwark of Jonathan’s presidency, see reason in looking at the case for Southeast. If they don’t they are free to do whatever they like, but in the words of a famous politician, ‘there is always tomorrow and when tomorrow comes, you can’t wipe away the past.’ Tomorrow will be based on what happens in the past. But I can tell you that the position of the East is based on equity.
Coming to PDP, I didn’t join the party; I was one of its founding members. If you pick up where the party was announced, you will see my name written in that Thisday publication. So I know that the central theme; one of the founding pillars of PDP was that the presidency shall rotate between the North and the South. Without this agreement there would have been no PDP.
If this agreement is broken, I’m not sure that there will be a PDP. It is trivializing the matter to reducing it to Southeast said, Southeast didn’t say; Governor Umahi said and Governor Umahi didn’t say, as if some of us who formed PDP are not still members of the party. How do you know how we would react to it?
One hopes that PDP will not break one of the central rules on which it was founded, and on which it got national coverage all through.
In the event that PDP decides to zone the presidency to the North, what will be the reaction of the members from the Southeast; will they toe the path of Umahi?
I don’t like trivializing principles to human beings and hypothetical situations. Who knows whether I will be alive tomorrow? When you form a company or an association, and you have central principles on which that association has been formed and you break those principles, you place the future of the association in jeopardy.
Putting it clearly, if PDP decides that power rotation and power shift are no longer principles of the Peoples Democratic Party; and it should look at its founding constitution and founding manifesto, then all those who are members of the PDP believing that this is a central principle of what they belong to will review their membership and what they will do, I am in no position to predict. It has nothing to do with Umahi or Southeast or whatever.
I see Umahi as saying, this is a principle that this party believes in and if it doesn’t believe in it anymore then it should please excuse me from continuing to belong. Whether he goes to whichever party or not, if he leaves it and goes to a party that has also not zoned it, then he would have defeated himself. If I leave PDP because it didn’t zone the presidency to the South and join APC that also has not zoned it to the South, then my reason of joining APC was not that PDP didn’t zone the presidency to the South.
But I can tell you that if PDP deviates from its zoning principle it is going to cause so many members to say, ‘we think this is not right.’
When a politician says ‘this is not right’, what is his next option?
There are all kinds of politicians; there are some politicians who will say, ‘I need to put food on the table, let me find where I can put food on the table’ and there are politicians and I like to say I belong here that say, ‘if it is not right, it is not right’.
Like you said that the Southeast provided the bulwark for Jonathan presidency; in 2011 the Southeast gave Jonathan more votes than his South-South, and if by 2023 the presidency is denied the zone, what option is available to them?
If it comes to the South, I am comforted that people of conscience in the Southwest led by Pa Ayo Adebanjo, who by the way sat next to me at the 2014 Confab, are saying, this thing should go to the Southeast because of equity and justice. I am also completely comforted by the statement Edwin Clark in the same manner, which means when it comes down to the South, we will sit down and agree. If the South agrees, people can still disagree, refuse and go and collect their own money wherever the money is coming to go against it. You can, it is a free world, but the consequences you cannot run away from.
If by 2023 as they are hoping, the APC or PDP doesn’t give its ticket to the Southeast, how would the Igbo interpret it?
The Almighty creator of this earth also created that you cannot have peace without justice. You must do what is right. I have read the history of a group of Igbo slaves who were taken and they reached on the false promise that they thought they were going to be in jobs, and they went as far as America, it is called the Igbo Landing in, Georgia Island. They landed there and they refused to be enslaved; rather than be enslaved, they went and committed a collective suicide. Those who were hoping to have that number of slaves and make profit lost everything.
I don’t know about other people, but I know my spirit and the Igbo spirit reject slavery and reject injustice and it has been shown three times in the history of Nigeria. We hope we don’t see a fourth time. But the Igbo people are already feeling rejected by such things you are describing now, and as they are saying, ‘a people rejected do not reject themselves.