John Nwobodo, chairman of the Intra-Parties Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC), Enugu State chapter and a chieftain of Ohaneze Ndigbo, speaks with JUDE OSSAI on the State of the Nation at 56. Excerpts:
How would you assess Nigeria at 56?
Assuming that Nigeria is a human person of 56 years old and the height he could attain is the level we find ourselves today as a nation then it would not be difficult to adjudge the man as a fool at 40. Our performance as a country is pitiable and posts a dismal result. Imagine that all our colonial assets have been left to decay, abandoned, looted or vandalised. At independence in 1960, we inherited a functional railway, a national carrier in aviation, the Nigerian Airways; we inherited the Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) Plc. Where are these assets and infrastructural facilities today? The situation has been progressively deteriorating; instead of building up, we had socio-political and economic catabolism. Successive governments could not add anything of value to the nation’s treasure. Those in positions saw government as feasting ground. This was how the metaphorical expression of “the national cake” evolved and crept into our political lexicon. So, this formed into a lifestyle of consumption and it has earned Nigeria the description of a “consuming nation”.
From every known index of growth and development, Nigeria is below average on all indicators. Having said this, my assessment simply is that Nigeria has posted a dismal performance. To express it satirically, Nigeria is a “baby adult”.
The country appears not to have got it right in most aspects. What do you think is wrong?
There is a lot that is wrong with Nigeria. To every action, there is a cause. The scientists would talk about opposite and equal reaction. The paradox we are experiencing is not metaphysical, but all man-made and self-inflicted. Unarguably, corruption has been and is the bane of our problem. God forbid that it will ever be. There is attitudinal problem, lack of accountability, nepotism, divisions along ethnic and religious divides. Inefficiency is there too.
We are also where we are because we failed to plan. It is axiomatic that he who has failed to plan has planned to fail. There are no implementable national development plans; leadership and policies are accidental occurrences in Nigeria. What amounts to national needs or priorities are as conceived by the leader. The implication of this is that if the leader has low sense of perception, then his poor perception becomes the norm.
It may somehow sound radical, but if you ask me, I will tell you that we don’t need to be governed according to party manifestoes or candidate’s campaign promises. What we have as manifestoes are mere rehash of widely known governance issues. It will make more sense to ask ourselves, for instance, what level do we wish to see ourselves in the next 10 or 20 years and then design a development plan that will deliver those generally agreed priority needs which have been thoroughly debated and inputs made by seasoned professionals, technocrats, etc.
Nigeria has witnessed both the military and civilian regimes, yet many Nigerians lament non-availability of basic needs. What is your take?
Unless we address the fundamental issues, we will remain stagnant for a long time to come. Traditionally, basic needs include food, water, shelter and clothing. However, in these modern times, the list can include sanitation, education and healthcare. Regrettably, at 56, Nigeria has not achieved self-sufficiency in food production, despite the abundance of arable and fertile land across the country. Starvation is still a major problem and some have died as a result thereof. There is food crisis in the North East.
So my take simply is that, as long as there is corruption, we will continue to witness hardship. We have been doing one thing the same way over and over and the result has been constant. Is it not wisdom that where something is done in a particular way and it produces a constant result to change strategy? We need to have positive attitude and do our bits in the overall scheme for national development with deep commitment and in accountability to the people.
What do you have to say about the growing insecurity in the country?
It is perplexing. Security competes for our scarce resources. It is mind-boggling the huge money that is spent on security operations in the North East and the Niger Delta. I advocate preventive security so as to free more fund for infrastructural development and governance. I am aware that the activities of militants in the Niger Delta region have crippled crude oil production with the concomitant low output. The matter is even compounded by the ravaging and rampaging recession. The government is battling so many challenges at the same time. This perhaps accounts for the failure of this government to fulfill its promises to Nigerians.
What is your candid assessment of the nation’s leaders?
My assessment is deducible from my answer to your first question on my assessment of Nigeria at 56. I did say that we have really nothing to show at 56. The inference therefore is that our past leaders didn’t do well. There are bits of effort here and there, but they do not sufficiently ground a point. The worst administration we ever had was the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan. The administration heartlessly plundered the treasury and ran Nigeria aground. The result is the current recession. We could not have been hit this hard had the immediate past administration managed our resources well.
Of the present leaders, majority of them are posting dismal performance and they are concealing their inefficiency under the excuse of recession. As it is, all the blame is on the Federal Government. This is not really how it should be. The states should have their share of the responsibility to get us out of recession. This is where it is important to restructure because if we restructure, the failures and successes of state governors and council chairmen will be obvious. I am not hearing anybody talk about the states; the focus is on the Federal Government. The Federal Government does not have all the answers alone; the states and local governments should put on the thinking cap too and proffer solution to the problems.
On the part of the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari has been doing his best to remedy the badly damaged system that he inherited. He is quite sincere, but beyond sincerity and strong political will, he needs to be creative; he needs to try new ideas and new strategies. The ideas and strategies of the 80s are no longer applicable these days. I would rate Mr President high on anti-corruption and generally I would say that his performance is average.
How can the country get out of its present socio-political and economic woes?
It is laughable for the Federal Government to suggest selling off our national assets as a way out of recession. The way out, but not limited to diversification of the economy, we need to move away from mono-economy. We need to run a compact government at all levels and free enough resources and fund for infrastructural development and manufacturing. These can help to stimulate the economy, create jobs and ensure redistribution of income, thereby creating more middle-class and bridge the outrageous gap between the poor and the rich.
What do you think of a Nigerian president of the Igbo extraction in 2019?
For me, I would like to see a Nigerian president of Igbo origin in 2019. Unfortunately, the political indicators do not point towards that direction. Don’t forget that we practice party democracy. In essence, it is the political parties that determine who flies their flags in any election. It is no longer news that the major opposition the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has zoned its 2019 Ppesidential ticket to the North. The incumbent president from the All Progressives Congress (APC) is from the North. The president is in his first term and, constitutionally, he has the right to contest for a second term. The indicators point to the direction that APC will retain its presidential ticket in the North in 2019. With this, it is a tall order for an Igbo person to be president in 2019. I think the South East will be the beautiful bride in 2023.
The above view however does not foreclose other possibilities. If Nigerian politicians are patriotic, the other political parties could form a coalition, alliance or even merger to constitute a third force and alter the permutations and calculations. I am sure that such move will enjoy the support of Nigerians. Only such arrangement can make the realisation of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction possible. Outside this, we should just wait till 2023.
To some political analysts, Nigeria’s problems are beyond restructuring but greed. What is your position on this?
The two are independent variables mutually exclusive of the other. We need to restructure Nigeria and I also agree that we need to deal with greed. The term, restructuring, is wide and generic and so we also have to be sure and agree on areas to restructure. There have been several failed attempts in the past. In fact, the need to restructure necessitated the convocation of the 2014 National Conference. I don’t know the fate of the National Conference recommendations.
What do you think is/are responsible for the unending agitation for an independent state of Biafra?
I won’t hesitate to say that I am a strong believer in a one united Nigeria. Whatever is pushing the agitators is none of my business; the agitation in my view is misplaced, baseless and unfounded. The Igbo would do better as an integral entity within the Nigerian Federation than isolating ourselves from the federation. However, I would say that those who are pushing the agitation have some selfish agenda. They want to make a name for themselves by luring gullible young men and women with jaundiced propaganda of marginalisation.
It is true that things have not been the way it ought to but that is not enough justification for disintegration. We are fully into the Nigerian Project. Who are these people pushing the separatist agenda? What are their pedigrees? Before and shortly after independence, Igbo were directing and controlling government, businesses etc. What went wrong? Society is dynamic and, by certain interplay of forces, we lost grip. We need to do a conscientious soul-searching and have deep reflections too. That others have overtaken us is no cause for alarm. Men are in constant competition; sometime you overtake, another time you are overtaken.
Can you tell what the ideology of MASSOB or IPOB is?
What are their plans for the Igbo race? What would they do differently assuming wishes were horses? If they can channel the energy they exert in pursuing the agitation into getting the Igbo back on their feet in the Nigerian political tripod, we will be better off. I think the Igbo at the echelon of power are the cause of our misery; they are gluttons and self-centred. Look at the other two major tribes, they have commonly shared agenda and they pursue such agenda with oneness of mind.
What is your assessment of Nigeria, particularly the Igbo nation, in the next one decade?
If we get our acts right, I assure you that the Igbo nation will be great in the next one decade. I see an economically-buoyant and industrialised Igbo nation in the next ten years; I see a new crop of patriotic leaders; I see a more politically conscious Igbo nation; I see an Igbo nation that does less of complaining, but does more to overcome limitations and barriers; I see a nation radiating with God’s grace and glory.