Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Justice Paul Obidigwe is a retired Chief Judge in Anambra State. Though enjoying his private life since leaving office, as a prominent member of the Elders Council in the state, he has not shied away from speaking his mind on any issue.
In this interview, Obidigwe lamented that the latter day politicians have failed to emulate the early nationalists who fought for Nigeria’s independence and detested primitive accumulation of wealth. He did not conclude without lamenting again that the incumbent governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, has disappointed his people by performing below expectations.
Looking at our journey as a nation so far since the return of civilian rule in 1999, can we say we have recorded enormous gains of democratic governance in Nigeria?
If I’m asked to talk, I can say that we are not developing our democracy. We are not helping matters. I classify myself as a pre-independence citizen of this country. As at 1960 when Nigeria gained her independence, I was in Class 5 in the elementary school already grown up, so I knew everything happening then. Not only that I’ve grown up, but we got interested in politics and the affairs of the NCNC then. Azikiwe, Awolowo, Akintola, Sarduana of Sokoto and few others were the pioneer leaders of this country. Let me give you an example. In the Eastern Region, Michael Okpara was the Premier, Akanu Ibiam was the Governor, and I ask – were they as rich as our present politicians? The answer is no. To our knowledge, before Akanu Ibiam died, it was Chief Mathias Ugochukwu, (Abirikete) that built him a house in Enugu where he lived and died. What happened at his death at Uwana is another story. Did he possess a mansion at his hometown, the same with Okpara? The richest among these people then were Awolowo and Azikiwe and even then, Azikiwe didn’t have much apart from possessions he acquired through his personal ingenuity and not stealing from public coffers. The same thing with Awolowo, through his economic prowess. Before Azikiwe died, he sold off most of his property and also gave out the Zik’s flat, which I may say was his largest estate, but he gave it to University of Nigeria, Nsukka and part of his residential estate to St. John’s Church, Nsukka. He only left the villa where his widow lives up till today. We should then ask ourselves whether it is the same thing we are seeing today, was that what we saw in Abacha and so on? There is a popular saying –Abacha loot and I ask is it a noble thing to be ascribed to a leader? Let us ask ourselves, how rich was Isong, the former Central Bank Governor, then compare it with Magu of EFCC today and the big men at NDDC and the scandal happening there now. Maybe the early politicians learnt directly from the British who were not interested much in self, but in what they can offer to the society. Today, ego and selfishness are the order of the day. We say the northerners are marginalizing us, but when we come here, it is the winner takes all. And when you are in power, you won’t allow the power to get to your other brothers, you always cling unto it. Sometimes I ask whether it is really in our gene and whether we can ever change. The Nigerian factor or African factor is a serious issue. To the average English man, give him power and he will think of what he can do to immortalize his name, but here, it’s a different ball game. To the Englishman, just a portable place where he would live with his wife and children is okay for him, but here, we pile wealth, accumulate and build mansions everywhere, buy property in Dubai, America, UK and so on. We cannot record much significant gain in our democracy because of greed.
What can you say about your constituency, the judiciary?
That one pains to the marrow. It is the same greed. In an attempt to foist his own man, they have to level all sorts of allegations on the Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. They say you have to give the dog a bad name in order to kill it. Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (Walter Onnoghen), who was bent on transforming the judiciary, was sacrificed. They just had to call him a bad name and removed him so as to install their own person. You are familiar with the question put to the one in charge now at the Senate by Abaribe and how he exposed his level of knowledge. That is the level we have sunk. It is sad indeed.
There are many arguments either for or against zoning of elective positions both at the national level and in the regions. Which side do you support and give reasons?
I support zoning of elective positions because it breeds peace. I introduced zoning in the local government in my area because I saw how people fought just for the position of ordinary ward councilor. Even though I was in a privileged position then and if I backed any candidate, they would listen to me, but I suggested to my people for us to zone the positions. When about three, four or five kindred have one political ward, let that be zoned and they take it one by one. That has been the scenario in Omor my community in Ayamelum LGA till today. But when you come to the state level, it becomes difficult among political parties because what suits one party may not suit another. Some people would bank on the strength of the ruling party; others would bank on the strength of their godfathers while others would bank on their money power. But if you also add all these things, if there is anything like good candidate amongst them, that is what matters most. For example, between 1979 to 1983, Alhaji Shehu Shagari from Sokoto and Dr Alex Ekwueme from Oko, Anambra State were in power. It was Alex Ekwueme that I approached in 1980 and he directed that a Poteau be brought to Ezu River for us to use and ferry across. Before then, for us to cross from Omor to Onitsha, we have to go through Umulokpa in Uzouwani, Ezeagu and 9th Mile all in Enugu State before we start coming to Onitsha. It took us two days then to go to Onitsha and come back. But it was Ekwueme that ordered that ferry be brought there and when we went to thank him and also requested that the 3-3 Onitsha – Aguleri to Ayamelum road be constructed, it was granted. Few weeks after, they started work too in our Ezu bridge. So, If Alex Ekwueme from Oko could give me a road in 1980/81 and if my brother becomes governor today and he cannot maintain that road, who is more beneficial to me among the two? My brother governor or my friend from afar? What we look out for, the benefits we get from politics is the development projects and nothing more. My prayer for my people both in Nigeria and Anambra is for whoever comes to power, let him know that the position is held in public thrust and not personal property. It is true that it is impossible to satisfy everybody, but try as much as possible to balance both appointments and infrastructural development. That is what the present Buhari administration is lacking at the national level. How can it be described of any democracy that in a country of three major zones, that in the security council of that country, one zone is completely out of it? Is it fair before God and man? Buhari should have a rethink. Like I always tell people, whoever is in power, any appointment you make, the appointee must be loyal to you irrespective of where he comes from because you hold the power to appoint or dismiss.
If Buhari thinks the Igbo man is his enemy, it is not true. For example, can you see how Ngige and those people benefitting from his government are fighting for him? So, if he appoints anybody into the security architecture, the person can never be antagonistic to him. The same thing here in Anambra, they are preparing, warming up for 2021. Already close you may say. From what we hear, the present government in Anambra believes in zoning. It may give them advantage, I don’t know. Other parties may say they are not after zoning, but for me, whether zoning or no zoning, what we want is good governance. Somebody who will be governor of Anambra State and he leaves a legacy so that when he leaves office, it would be an indelible mark. Let me tell you, we know how many people that have governed Anambra State. From Ezeife whose stay was cut short because of military interregnum, now came Mbadinuju, some people don’t want to hear his name today as former governor. Then Ngige came, within the three years he came, his legacy is there. Obi’s footprints are also there. Then after Obi now our brother Obiano is in the saddle. Well, our brother is building Umueri Airport and I learnt aeroplane landed there yesterday, hahaha.
One of the reasons Peter Obi gave in for power shift to Anambra North was to bring solid development in the area; six years plus, can you say Obiano has delivered on that?
We are utterly disappointed. When Peter Obi gave us the option of producing his successor, we were so grateful to him and we remain grateful till today. Unfortunately, the incumbent, for reasons we cannot explain is not able to turn around the fortunes of our people development wise. What makes up Omambala, for example, is Anambra East, Anambra West, Oyi, Ayamelum, then add Onitsha Zone and Ogbaru. But I have gone round these areas and cannot pinpoint tangible projects executed by Obiano for Anambra North zone. I have gone to Anambra West. The bridge he said he is building from Mmiata to Nzam, grasses have taken over the construction site and all the equipment disappeared from site. The bridge he said he will build to connect his people, Aguleri across Omambala has been abandoned. The one he is building around our place in Umueje, nothing is going on there. Last time I went home to my community, I suffered terribly with my car because there is no road. There is what I call misplacement of priority. The road between Aguleri to Ezu in our place is impassable now. For me to go home now, I will go through Nando to Igbariam and veer off to Isi Ezu. Instead of repairing that road for us from Aguleri to Ezu, he started a new road from Ezu (ring road) inside a bush to burst to Aguleri again. What is the wisdom? And that new road is not even completed, it’s now being eroded with the rains and the cost of that new road which is longer in length is higher than the maintenance of the existing road. Again, economically, how many people have he empowered in Oyi, for instance, or Anambra East in general apart from his community Aguleri? Other local governments in Anambra North, nothing is happening. I’m not surprised anyway. Discussing it is like discussing individual, but I can’t help it because he is the incumbent. He started well like tackling kidnapping, but derailed in development along the line. As a matter of fact, if not because people fall for peanuts during elections because of poverty, what Obiano is doing will kill his party, APGA. If not that people take peanuts to vote during election, APGA has failed as the ruling party in Anambra. Look at how he has also killed the local government system in Anambra. Just this morning, I heard that he has extended the tenure of local government caretaker chairmen again in the state. If not that the legislators are also rubber stamp, that system is illegality and unconstitutional. Federal government issued circulars before that any local government that doesn’t have elected local councils should not receive allocations, but you still see how they use these local government appointees to sign off the money for the governor. These are one of the reasons corruption has not ended in Nigeria.