Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Elder statesman and former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, is not happy with the situation of things in the country. He described the situation as very bad, pointing out that it is being suffered more by the Igbo in the country.
He lamented that there have been sustained marginalization and series of attacks on Igbo people and their businesses by the Federal Government for no reason.
He noted that the horrible situation has prompted their youths to agitate for a country of their own where they would feel loved and accepted.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he also spoke on other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
How in your view have the Igbo fared since after the civil war in Nigeria?
After the civil war, Igbo people have been suffering. Some sufferings resulted directly from the civil war. The others resulted from policy of government which seem directed to pull the Igbo down; P-I-D, Pull Igbo Down. Well, when you fight a war and you come out of it and you are not victorious, there are consequences. We lost people; many people. The Nigerians declared ‘no victor, no vanquished’ yet they gave us 20 pounds for all the money we have in the banks. If you have million pounds, you get 20 pounds. And since then, we have been suffering in every way. Our people are commercial people, businessmen. They are attacked in their businesses. They import goods and the goods are seized and auctioned to other people. Individual business people are attacked. First, Jim Nwobodo lost his bank, Savannah Bank. It was taken from him. Second, Chief Cletus Ibeto, once the greatest importer of cement into Nigeria was attacked and his business crumbled. He is now trying to build up. Ifeanyi Ubah of Capital Oil was humiliated with detention by the EFCC several times. NNPC was owing him. Instead of helping him to recover the money, the government added insult to injury. Innoson Motors, the young man who has the first motor manufacturing company in Africa was dragged from Nnewi to Abuja in pants. Fortunately, the Central Bank has decided on the case between Innoson and GTB and Innoson is the winner. Emzor Pharmaceuticals was closed down because they said that some recalcitrant youths were inhaling some of the drugs which were produced by the factory; which drugs have been in production for decades. The attacks on businesses have continued. I understand that Sunnewspaper was visited by the EFCC. Now, we are hearing stories about Onyema and Air Peace. We are sure that it is a case of selective justice, assuming that there is any justice in it; it has to be a case of selective justice that he is being attacked because people who have done worse things are still in the country. Apart from attack on businesses of Igbo people, there are all kinds of humiliation. Noticed that our boys were asked to lie down in the mud and some were drinking mud water. And then eventually many were killed. The killing has been quite much. When young men wanted to have a memorial of the Biafra war dead ones, they were massacred; first in Aba, and then in Onitsha. The one that is most intriguing was the massacre of young men who were celebrating the victory of Trump in faraway America. Now, humiliations are many. There is Awka-Etiti down there. Awka-Etiti is a very small town in Idemili. Where we are now is Igbo-Ukwu. There is about three miles distance between Awka-Etiti and Igbo-Ukwu. It may be less even. When I was coming back on Wednesday, we passed through four checkpoints between Awka-Etiti and Igbo-Ukwu; a distance of three miles. And, of course, humiliation is obvious. The way you are treated at the checkpoints, not just the way you are delayed. So, the Igbo have been going through hell since the end of the civil war that was declared ‘no victor, no vanquished.’ I must say that our people who import containers are the worst hit because when they import containers, the containers are seized and auctioned to other people.
There has been unending outcry of marginalization by President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government. What do you think is the way out?
Well, first of all, marginalization; for years now, if there is a meeting of the National Security Council, the Igbo man is not represented and he is one of the three largest tribes. Two, if you hear there is a list of new appointments, you will find the Igbo absent from that list or largely absent from that list. But if there is a list of people removed from employment, especially the military, security people, the Southeast people dominate that list. Well, there are so many examples. The recent appointment of commissioners of police was only good for the Southeast. They got one commissioner. Why do I say very good? They normally don’t get any at all. This time they got one while Northwest got 12. There was a time some justices were appointed across the country; 27 justices. No Igbo, two people from Southwest and South-south. I mean, one has to keep a record in order to roll out the many cases of injustices done to our people. So, humiliation, marginalization, and pull them down have been the fate of the Southeast people in Nigeria since the end of the civil war. And the civil war, contrary to the impression people got, did not result from any coup which Igbo organized. The coup was organized for the benefit of the Yoruba, to make Nigeria grow faster by putting Awolowo who was a very good manager of people as Prime Minister of Nigeria. It was not done for any Igbo interest except that Igbo is most interested in the progress of Nigeria.
There have been agitations by the youths for a Biafra Republic. Do you think that the agitation was justifiable?
Because of what I have told you so far; since the civil war, the youths who didn’t even participate in the civil war are calling for Biafra. Calling for Biafra is a reaction to what the Federal government is doing to the Igbo and the youths want fast solution. They want Biafra. But the elders see some advantages in Nigeria that is made to work. Because of the large market and our people are businessmen, the elders are thinking of the economies of scale and they are feeling all the pains the youths are feeling, but they are bearing it a little more than the youths. So, if you want to look at it very well, you will see that the youths are reacting faster to Nigeria’s government pushing the Igbo out of Nigeria. It is the Nigerian government pushing the Igbo out of Nigeria. The youths are reacting to it more than the elders.
Presidents have come and gone in this country. Looking back at the years of the previous administrations and comparing them with the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, do you think things are getting better?
Everybody knows that Nigeria has been taken giant steps backward. It cannot be worse now. Impunity has become the norm in Nigeria. Things are not done according to norm or constitution. And the judiciary has been finally destroyed. The politics has always been down and has been worse in the years. The executive is not making impact. Hunger is taking Nigeria to dark places and it doesn’t appear that anything has been done to improve the welfare of the people. In fact, the welfare of the people has been tumbling; tumbling down in every way. It is not difficult to prove these things. One indication of how you are going is your exchange rate. Your exchange rate has now come to N365 to $1. It is not easy to bear that. Naira was superior to dollar before. Now you have to get N365 to $1. The price of rice and all consumables have gone up. Unemployment has never been as bad as it is now. Security is worse; banditry everywhere, kidnappers, thieves everywhere. And there are many cases. The president is not helping much. The president talked about free visa. I mean, visa not required of Africans and we know whom he is talking about. I think that is the case that cannot be left like that. The National Assembly must act. I don’t believe the president has the power to open the gates of Nigeria and allow everybody to come in. It’s like planning for war; planning for foreigners to dominate us. That cannot happen. We should not allow it. And we are not going to go fighting anybody. But we want good reason to prevail.
Do you think that the closure of the Nigeria’s border is good for this country?
It is not easy to pronounce on border closure because there are many aspects of it. Why should imports come to Ghana, Togo and some other West African countries, and they collect the duties and then send to Nigeria? We lose duties if we allow it to continue that way. But we know we are suffering because of our rice. Even that suffering is temporary. For me, it is alright. I just ordered Anambra Rice for my Christmas. Abia also wrote me that they have rice to sell to me. So, temporary suffering is imposed by the border closure, but there are good reasons for closing the border. And there are serious problems arising from closing the border. It is not something you will just dismiss because…we don’t say something is bad because it is done by a government which has been failing, but make judgment given our understanding.
What is the implication of returning to budget circle of January to December? What implication do you think it would have on the economy?
I don’t see any problem with that; I don’t see any implication. If it is made regular, it will be very good. It is good to have enough time to implement the budget. That is part of planning. I think I should commend it and encourage them to keep it constant like that.
Let us come home. By 2021, Ndi-Anambra will be going to the polls to elect the next governor. Lately, some persons are promoting the issue of zoning. Here in Anambra, before now, we talk about competence. Would you prefer a competent governor who comes from any zone or any governor that must come from a particular zone whether competent or not?
Very good question and very important. In 2021, a new governor must emerge in Anambra State. That governor must be a very competent person, fully qualified, well educated, ready to work, and seriously interviewed and processed to know that he is good enough. There is one good thing about Anambra. The good thing about Anambra is that from any village, you can get competent people to be governor of Anambra State. From any zone you can get, maybe, up to 10 people qualified to be governor of Anambra State. From every local government you can get somebody qualified to be governor of Anambra State. What we are talking about now is that we want to reduce tension. We want to reduce the cost of election. We want to make routine, if possible, the election of governor. And we agreed on zoning. It is an agreement we reached. It is important that is why we are talking about the presidency being zoned. The North has had more than enough. So, with respect to Anambra State and governorship, Anambra Central has ruled for 11 years, Anambra North will soon complete eight years, Anambra South has not ruled for more than five years or five plus. And Anambra South has dominance of qualified people. So, what people are saying is that there is no point going away from equity and justice. We expect the next governor to come from Anambra South. And there is a new element. I was the first governor of Anambra State. I took the whole state as my area of concern. I never did anything for Anambra South because I am from Anambra South. No! But as you know now, everybody who comes as governor pays special attention to his zone. There is no point repeating what you know already. Everybody in Anambra State knows that governors now take special care of their zone and then do something for the rest of the state. So, I support strongly that the next governor should come from the South and I will not be too concerned about the governor paying extra attention to the South because all others are doing it. In fact, I am the person to advocate it because everybody is blaming me for not doing anything for my special area, my zone.
Because I thought, we could not be doing that because of zone.
How would you assess Governor Willie Obiano’s administration so far? How well or badly do you think he is doing?
Well, sometimes we forget; especially we forget the good ones and remember the bad ones. Obiano increased security level in Anambra State. Since Obiano, kidnapping has been low. Since Obiano, Iweka North in Onitsha has been quiet or relatively quiet. He has done so many other things in the medical field, in the education field, in many fields. I have been hearing complaints that the second term hasn’t been as good as the first term. I am hearing complaints about his not being open to people; not listening to people, and not even receiving people as he did in the first term. There may be reasons for that. I don’t know. So, as a matter of judgment, I will say that Obiano performed very well in the first term. And I am not sure I know enough in the second term to make any statement.
What can you say about the level of economic integration in the Southeast? Are you satisfied with it?
Your point is one, that economic integration in the Southeast has not been strong and that it is necessary for it to be strong. When I was sworn in as governor of Anambra State, my inauguration speech was titled ‘think home.’ I asked our people to invest everywhere they are investing, but to remember home also. We must have a strong home base. That helps us to deal with problems from outside. We must have a strong home base. And it is inevitable for our success that we have a strong home base. You gave the example of Enugu Airport being federal and Anambra Airport not making progress; Ebonyi talking about airport, but the one we have in Enugu was abandoned and we are waiting for the Federal Government to come and build it for us. Yes, Federal Government has been building for other people, but we know that Federal Government does not care for Southeast. If the Federal Government does not care for us, should we not care for ourselves, also? This is the point you are making. And I agree totally with it. The economic integration of the Southeast should be very strong; it should be planned. Effort was made before to plan it, but it didn’t go far. Today, we have to find a way to design a commission that plans the development of the Southeast. I am proposing a new leadership model for the Southeast so that even the governors we bring out will be people who know their onions and know what to do to boost the economy of the Southeast. The way things are done now, anybody who has money comes out to contest for governor and when he wins, it is his business. The development of Southeast is the responsibility of Southeast and we can jointly face it. And if you are to be governor, we must approve you as somebody who can help develop Southeast. If you are to just bring money, share it and become governor that will be a thing of the past by the time we get the right leadership which we are now working on.
What are your predictions for the year 2020? What do you foresee for Nigeria in 2020?
It is very bad now, 2019; and has been progressively bad for at least four years. As I said in one of my interviews, man has failed Nigeria. What do we do? The only thing is to go back to God and beg Him to produce a change. And we hope that that change will come even within 2019 or not later than Easter 2020. Change that we desire for progress. It can be change of attitude. It can be other changes. But there is need for change and we pray God that change comes before Easter.