Chief Chuka Odom is a lawyer and former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. The Imo State-born politician in this interview with FRED EZEH opens up on a wide range of national issues.
You are a critical stakeholder in South East politics, what is your take on the recent military operation in the region, with regard to IPOB?
Let me preface my response by stating that I am an Igbo man, thus my response could be misinterpreted by some people as ethnic sentiment. But that, I could not help. I am opposed to the idea of a separate state of Biafra or any other sovereign seeking entity within the Nigerian state. A lot has been said on how Nigeria is not a state but mere “geographical expression”. However, no state was created and named by God. What it means is that all sovereign states emerged through some form of amalgamation, fusion or consensual union. Some developed countries like the United States no longer have sizeable indigenous population. So there is nothing unusual or extraordinary about the way we came into being as a nation. We have managed to live together for 57 years; we have survived civil war, military dictatorship, failed and corrupt civil governance. I believe we could overcome current challenges with time. That will pave the way for the emergence of new crop of leaders and efficient institutions. However, we must be patient with ourselves. Now to your question; Nnamdi Kanu and his co-agitators are by-products of failed, inept and corrupt leadership of the last 17 years. It is unfortunate that these youths revolt over the meaningless lives and future the Nigerian state has condemned them to. The Kanu phenomenon is more like the Nigerian youths giving the political class the “middle finger”. The response, mirrors the dysfunction of a system rooted in ethnic politics, and thus, we lost an opportunity to open a conversation with the youths, with a view to pulling them in, comforting and carrying them along in spite of their harsh rhetoric. They were the victims here. If not, how do you explain a situation where soldiers will shoot kids whose average age is 25, and whose crimes were protesting with Biafran flag? We have driven these youths further off from a buy-in to Nigeria state, and left deep psychological wound in their psyche. The military has achieved no feat by killing unarmed youths just to silence their voice. The ease with which this was done gives a lie to all the allegation that they had stockpiled arms ready to fight the Nigerian state. The security agencies knew these youths had no arm other than sticks and Biafran flags. But we could still get it right if we so desire. All we need is to open up a conversation with them. They deserve good and quality life as Nigerians. It is obviously not too late to invite the IPOB leader and other youth activists from other parts of Nigeria to a room and hear their complaints. The effort at dividing these youths who are united in their suffering, along ethnic and tribal lines is shameful.
What about South East governors and other political leaders, do you think they did enough?
The governors were caught in awkward position with the Nnamdi Kanu movement. They knew they have not done enough to the people. And that contributed to the frustration of these young folks. On the other hand, they were afraid of the followership of the movement, and did not want to push too hard to get Kanu into a middle ground that would have toned down the rhetoric. They also failed woefully in engaging the Federal Government in a constructive manner that would have brought Kanu to dialogue table. Yoruba leaders were wise enough and were able to moderate Gani Adams in the days of June 12 agitation. And they achieved something out of the movement. But in the south east case, some political leaders were cynically manipulating the young man for political gains because of his huge followership. It is this tunnel vision that led to the massacre of innocent youths. They certainly have a huge share in the sad killing of these naive and manipulated youths.
Southern leaders have intensified the call for restructuring. Would that solve the alleged marginalization?
Restructuring means different things to different people. I do not want to waste time delving into the misnomer of restructuring in our present circumstances. But mind you, you cannot restructure in a constitutional democracy. That term “restructuring” better applies to a military dictatorship where the executive, legislature and the judiciary are compressed in one organ usually called the Supreme Military Council (SMC) or by any other nomenclature. In a constitutional democracy, major changes are brought about by constitutional amendment. The legislative arm of the government engages in periodic review of the law to engender good governance. The judiciary takes up the responsibility of interpreting the law in event of constitutional conflict. However, there is question that Nigeria is in dire need of some form of re-organization of its institutions and processes. If this is what is currently referred to as “restructuring”, then so be it. But it cannot be brought about in this revolutionary tone with which the proponents are advocating. It will lead to further chaos and confusion, that is if it ever gets off the ground. How do you deal with the existing political/constitutional organs and structures? Even if we side-step these hurdles, what about the politics of suspicion in which the entire idea is already mired in. These are the problems of Nigeria. My position is that we could bring about all the needed structural changes we wish to make within the framework of our existing constitution (as flawed as it may appear). However, it must come in form of constitutional amendment. For it to be feasible, it will have to be gradual, incremental, starting with the low hanging fruits. It could be spread out over a period of the next 10 to 15 years if we articulate a vision of this emerging new nation of our dream. And how to go about it is with steadfast zeal, commitment and belief in the outcomes, which we will enjoy nationwide. I do not see any other possibility aside that. I am very sure that this current clamour will soon die a natural death as usual and the blame game will start. I suggest that we engage with the existing structures and have a realistic plan of action.
There is this belief that President Buhari dislikes Igbo people. Those who hold this view always refer to the popular 97/5 percent voting pattern. Do you also hold this view?
Whatever view exists today in South East about the feeling of the President towards the people of the zone was created by this administration. In his first months in office, the President made certain unhealthy utterances that were unhelpful in uniting the country. I think he has now realized that such utterances like the 97/5 percent you referred to, can and do have far reaching consequences if he wants to lead a united country and not a segment thereof. He has followed this up by the pattern of political appointments, distribution of infrastructural projects and headships of key organs of the government. It only reflects deep seated ethnic disposition which is unhelpful in a multi-ethnic federation like Nigeria. Let me make myself clear. The President has committed no offence by these actions as they are his prerogative, yet they hurt him heavily and had reduced his stature considerably as a national leader. I believe that he still has a chance to reverse this notion and reclaim his multi-ethnic appeal. This is critical because the optic is not good in spite of whatever people around him say to the contrary.
What is your assessment of the two years of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government?
This government came to power on two or three key issues. They promised to fight corruption and provide a better life for Nigerians. They made a widespread youth unemployment a major issue. They are now being judged on the basis of these promises. I observed first that the health challenge of the President impacted on the output of the government. The war on corruption suffered a tremendous setback due to the various cases of alleged corruption in the present government, which is either poorly handled or entirely ignored, probably with the belief that it will go away. Each day, Nigerians are entertained with various acts of connivance by top government officials to shield alleged criminals. If the government still thinks people take this war on corruption serious, then they are either stone-deaf or deliberately propagating lies. I had great expectations when President Buhari was elected, I thought then that given his legendary disdain for material possessions, we are in for a new era that at least will curb the culture of impunity. Alas! As they say, “things have fallen apart”. I do not think the reason for this turn of event was because the President has not made sincere effort at fighting corruption. I think corruption has continued to thrive in spite of him. And if you bring 10 Buharis under the present arrangement, corruption will continue to thrive. I am only convinced that the fight against corruption will commence with the removal of those anti-transparency system and processes, which characterize each and every segment of the government operations. Let us start with the cesspool of corruption in the Nigeria political space. Why won’t President Buhari make passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law his priority legislative agenda? With the passage of that single piece of legislation, the NNPC would become an open and transparent public and quasi-private entity operating along the same line of other successful oil countries like UAE and Norway. We would have at least made it possible that we will not be entertained with another “Dieziansque” type of national embarrassment. And the corruption would have been dealt a big blow. Why has the Buhari administration not initiated a round table on “security votes”, which is another cesspool for corruption at all levels of government? These are low hanging fruits if the government truly wants to fight corruption. No government will ever go near these areas to enthrone transparency because no government in Nigeria can survive without slush funds. This is the reality of our tragedy. Leaving the door of the barn open and lamenting that the goat has escaped, is both hypocritical and worst form of corruption. It has nothing to do with Buhari. It has become a tradition in Nigeria. It doesn’t matter who comes or whatever party wins elections in 2019. What we need is urgent round table discussion on these and other issues. It will help us figure out how to finance campaigns and political parties. Until that is done, the players will continue to steal from the system in order to continue to pay their way into and stay in power. On the issue of youth unemployment and citizens welfare index, I think the leaders and supporters of the APC will be the first to admit that things are worst today. This was contrary to the expectation of a better Nigeria prior to 2015 election.
Are you eyeing any elective position in 2019?
No comment on that . However, time will tell.