President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and former Minister for Information, Chief John Nnia Nwodo spoke to journalists in Enugu recently. JUDE OSSAI was there.
You have maintained the call for restructuring against the agitation for Igbo presidency in 2023. How do we reconcile this?
It is undoubtedly the turn of the Igbo to run for president in 2023 under the present constitution. Anybody who denies this fact is deliberately throwing the country into chaos. It is incontestable and if there must be justice and fairness in the system, it must be the turn of the Igbos and I implore all political parties to take cognizance of this fact.
On the issue of restructuring, I have been misunderstood because I have continuously said that the only way to stop this sectional politics and deliberate leadership marginalisation is to restructure the country. And I refer to the pre-independence period when we had a constitution that was agreed to by our forefathers, which I am praying that we all should return to and which achieved better result for our economy. The Premier of Northern Nigeria rejected the call to be Prime Minister of the federation because the region was more powerful than the federal government. In a restructured Nigeria, the crazy to become the president or prime Minister of Nigeria and to determine it according to zoning will fizzle out because the restructured independent components will have sovereignty of their natural resources and the real economic growth of Nigeria will be determined by the regions not by the federal government. The federal government’s responsibility is limited to defence, external relations, customs and excise it won’t be attractive to people. Right now, the presidency is attractive to people because of the vast majority of the resources of Nigeria which is centrally being held and which has attempted to destroy the sovereignty of Nigeria. The president of Nigeria has so much power because of the amount of the federal government which he controls and anybody who wants to use it to feather his own nest will do so, as long as he has legislative majority and that has been the pattern overtime since the 1999 constitution took off. All I am saying is that once the 1999 constitution is overthrown and there is an agreement by Nigerians to restructure the clamour to where the president will come from will no longer be something attractive. It does not vitiate the point that as long as this constitution continues to be there, the turn by turn tradition cannot be stopped because it is the turn of the Igbos. When we had regional government, we were doing better and our institutions were working.
It is obvious that the present leaders have failed the country. But it did not start with them. So where did we get it wrong as a nation?
You know that the incursions of the army into governance in Nigeria destroyed the evolution of democratic terms. The lack of absolute transparency in the electoral system that led to thuggery and sometimes rigging, but at present, what happened in those days that we detested are incomparable with what is happening these days. The thuggery and rigging have developed into a sophisticated scale, far in excess of what obtained when we had the regional government. In fact, the reason why there was a state of emergency in the government of Nigeria was that the coalition of NCNC and Action Group won the election, but the election was declared in favour of Akintola’s party and in order to show Akintola that he did not win, the coalition decided to ensure that there would be no governance in Nigeria. They said if you know you have the numbers that won the election, come and govern and let us see. They filed the suits; they [went after] Akintola’s followers. It was clear that the majority of the people who were able to occupy the streets in Nigeria were the people who won the election and the federal government who was siding Akintola decided to appoint Majekundomi as the administrator of Western region. The unfortunate thing is that people of this generation have not been given opportunity to read history of what happened in the past and so when we say these things, it looks like we are talking from guess work, that it is not grounded in history. But the truth is that those of us who had seen it, will feel so demoralised because we had a better life.
When I went to CIC to do my secondary education, two of my classmates were recipients of my father’s scholarship and as recipients of my father’s scholarship, they were beating me in class. Their father was relatively economically lower in terms of earnings. That does not happen today because, I can’t be given scholarship to children who attend same school with my children or allow my children to attend the same school with my driver’s children because my driver will not afford it with his little income. I am forced to take our children to the private school for the sake of quality which is not obtainable in the public schools. Right now, we know that electric cars demands in Europe, America and China, far exceeds fossil oil cars demanded in these places. That means that the demand for oil is going down. That means that the educational bias is growing in such a way to throw away old methods of production and the teaching in those countries that are developing these technologies have left us behind. Even our teachers have no capacity to teach our children new modules because nobody has trained them for it. Netanyahu told us a few months ago that they can determine the chemical component of a plant by using a drone scan without entering the farm and that they can cure the deficiency in the farm by using a drone injection without entering the farm directly from the air. America has also developed a warfare technology by which they can use drones by which they can rout soldiers in the battle field.
When you blame military incursion for the problems of the country, one will begin to wonder whether you were not part of it since you served as Minister under General Abudulsalami Abubakar?
When we served in the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime, it was a transitions government. We were sworn in to government in August and we handed over May. So we basically stayed in government for eight to nine months and the sole agenda was to return the country to civil rule and as Minister for Information, it was my responsibility to mobilise all the transition agents in order to ensure that the people were aware of the electoral rules and procedure for election, voters rights and rules governing the process. So since we were focused towards having a new government, there was no need introducing fresh policies that we could not complete. It does not mean that because of the eight months of the Abdulsalami Abubakar administration, every Minister who served must be held responsible for the underdevelopment of the country. For me, what I did for information had not been erased. As Minister of Information, I changed all the television studios of NTA and FRCN. I gave instant broadcasting capacity to NTA and FRCN using motorised studios. Prior to my assumption of office, people bought second hand facilities that did not last up to one year. In my time, I insisted that the manufacturer supplied us and they supplied us at a discount and the engineers from the two corporations watched the assemblage of the facilities and that is why they are still working. I bought new vehicles and new cameras.
You are one of the Igbo leaders marked for attack by IPOB and you have supported this group for some time. At what point did you disagree with them?
I think IPOB is misguided and what I feel is that sometimes when their revenue is low, they look for cheap publicity just to create the impression that there is disunity in Igboland. Nobody has defended IPOB in Igboland more than I have done and I am wondering whether some us deserve what we are getting from them. Only a few days ago, an ambassador sent me a film of the invasion of the Nigerian Embassy in Conakry and I am yet to understand why it was invaded. The people who invaded them are clearly Igbos and some of them, with Biafran flags and they were chanting in Igbo “Iwe n’ewe anyi” meaning we are angry. They didn’t even disguise the fact that these are Nigerians. They made it obvious that we are Igbos . Where is the Ambassador (ebea ka ono)? They torn the Nigerian flags; they went with Biafra flags, they broke air conditioners, they broke windows. For crying out loud, why would you fall into the Nigerians trap of saying you are a terrorist? People who do lawful demonstration, is that how they do it? I found it funny. These people who are doing these things if there is war today, will they be able to fight? I was a Biafran solider at an impressionable age of 17. These boys cannot be more Biafran than I am. I worked under Col Onwuatuegwu of blessed memory. Who did they work under? I carried rifle to the battle front notwithstanding the privileged position of my father as a Minister. Those who live in privileged homes abroad and who are not facing the things we are facing here, it is possible to seat at arms chair in their comfort zone and with funds that were donated to them by Nigerians all over the places and make pontifical pronouncements. It is rather unfortunate. I am a two-time minister but still living in my father’s house. I have a bungalow in the village. So the same kind of people have masterminded all kinds of things. My house in the village was burnt. I get telephone threats everyday and I have absolved them in the past. But now, I am going to prosecute all those who are fingered in some of these things because this is not in our character. Tell me why Ekweremadu, in whose home the strategy for Nnamdi Kanu’s release was conceived, should be dealt with the way they did? The former governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji, was the one it fell on to take Nnamdi [Kanu] on bail but he was also on bail from a trumped-up charge by EFCC against him and you cannot take somebody on bail when you are on bail. Because of that, Ekweremadu suggested to Abaribe to take him on bail and Abaribe agreed and all of them supported Abaribe. The former Minister of Aviation, Chidoka, volunteered his land as part of the surety. Neither Abaribe nor himself nor any of those who ensured Kanu’s release had been contacted by IPOB since their leader jumped bail and we here have been pleading with the federal government to forgo the charge.But what do we get in return? There is no Igbo man who has attacked the Buhari government more than I have. I am not trained to be insolent. In attacking Buhari’s government, I attack his policies and not his person. If he started having children early, he would have probably had a child my age because he is about 18 years older than I am. So why should I insult somebody who is as older as my father despite the fact that I don’t like his policies? They call Nigeria a zoo; they call people all kinds of name. That is not our point.
Our point is that we are being marginalised in our country. We are being treated like a second-class citizen; the system we are operating on is repressive and it looks like there is a pre-conceived arrangement to hold the Igbo down after the civil war, because all our savings were turned to 20 pounds. We were given only five states while others have a minimum of six. We were given 95 local governments while others have over 100. Our demographic character has not been reflected because the census board does not say your ethnic group. When we were given quit notice in Northern Nigeria, and I took a census, I found out that there were over 11.6 million Igbos in the northern Nigeria. In the last election, there were over 3.6 million registered voters in Lagos State alone. My executive sent people to Ghana and we found out that there were one million Igbos living in Ghana. There are more Igbos living outside Igboland and clearly our population is sizeable. Now Fulanis are invading Nigeria, crossing our borders, registering as Nigerians in our national identity card scheme, overthrowing our immigration and international laws. This is bunkum and I say it every day. What do they want me to do? Take up arms and fight the federal government. No generation survives a war twice.
How do you react to the insinuations that Enugu International airport was deliberately closed to keep the economy of South-East down?
The present government has shown that it has bias against the South-East and concentrating every development in the northern part. We have things here that could boost our economy if the federal government has interest on the South-East. The people in Aba don’t have power to boost their trade. They know that the airport was going down and that the runway was not good and refused to maintain it until it became a hazard. You closed it for safety reasons and said you would repair it before the end of December and suddenly, you realised that you had no money to do it and you know that that movement of goods and services in that region where the airport is situated is one of the things that can catalyse the economy of that region. The warehouses there have been destroyed by the rains and nobody cares. The terminal building has been abandoned for lack of payment. But in less than six months, we built an international airport in Kaduna which no airline operates. The governors have resolved to go as a group to the president, because if you ask the South-East governors to bring money, I do not know how they can raise 10 million naira without mortgaging the airport. If they have to raise it by loan, they must get a guarantee from federal government that all revenues accruing to the airport must be returned to the government coffers and even if they raise the money, they cannot be allowed to do the job without the permission of the federal government by our constitution.
Let us talk about the justice system. How independent are the judiciary and INEC under this government?
This is the only country where politicians who obviously belong to different political parties who run elections appoint electoral body exclusively. Why do I say that? The president nominates members of the electoral commission to the National Assembly and the National Assembly approves it. The president was elected on a party platform. The National Assembly members are elected on a party platform and in this instance, both the president and a majority of the National Assembly members come from one party. So the members of the electoral commission are chosen by one party and given to the National Assembly and they rubber-stamp it. The implication of this is that, it is he who pays the piper that calls the tune. Now what is system in other jurisdiction? In South Africa, the judiciary appoints the electoral commission and they do so by a public advert which calls for nomination from every citizen of the country about the people they feel are qualified to be in the electoral commission. When the nominations are done, they will shortlist the names of those nominated and the public asked to critique them. After they have received these complaints from the public, they sit in judgment and remove those they think sufficient evidence of their bias have been found. They advertise the list of those they have not found wanting and give you another opportunity to critique and, thereafter, they do the second screening and publish their findings. Those people will believe they are appointed by the people and they owe it to the people as well as their integrity. And that will elevate them to the level of independence.
In the United Kingdom, what they do is to ensure that every party is on the electoral commission. So that at every meeting of the electoral commission, every party is represented. This is the only country in the world where after an election, you spend over 180 days in court disputing who won the election. Tell me any other country in the world where election petitions have lasted for six months after an election, where people who have been six months in office were removed by the court because they were not properly elected and, of course, the same in the judiciary. The governors appoint the judges in the state; the president appoints the judges at the federal courts, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. This is not right. In the previous regional arrangement, the bar association would nominate these people. Our revenue system also does not allow a consolidated fund for the judiciary. So if the judiciary wants to buy a car, they go to a governor; they want an office, they go to a governor; they want police, they go to the Inspector General of Police. In other jurisdiction, the court has its own police so that when there is an enforcement of judgment against you, the court police will go to enforce the judgment. They take orders from the chief judge. The judiciary has minimal contact with those in executive and legislature. But that is not the case here and nobody wants to address it.
What is the way out of the insecurity in Nigeria?
When we were under the regional structure, local authorities provided security. They enforced judgments of courts, regulations of local authorities, but it is not the same today. The effectiveness of the police lies in the smallest units of the organisation. It is impossible that you are a criminal in your town and people won’t know. If you are rich suddenly in your community, people will always know. It does not hide itself. So you cannot have a police fighting crime in a community and you put a Divisional Police Officer who is not from the area and does not even understand their language; he doesn’t understand the geography of the place and the whole essence of crime prevention is information gathering. Between Enugu and Onitsha, I counted over 30 checkpoints and I took camera and recorded them collecting money from motorists. This IPOB that is chasing us everywhere, don’t they see them? Can’t they expose them [the policemen] or is it because Nwodo is the one saying it? This is how we are contained in Igboland.
What is your reaction to the controversy surrounding the decision of President Buhari to withdraw the national economic committee from Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo?
I am indifferent. If it is a vote of no confidence, they should let us know. But I think it smacks of disrespect to the office of the Vice-President. He is the chairman of the National Economic Council with all the governors and now you appoint another body that advises the president without the office of the Vice-President. Again what is the idea behind creating ministries for agencies that were previously under the supervision of the vice-president? If it is a vote of no confidence in the vice-president, they should give us the reasons for all these. And if it is in line with the allegations of mismanagement of funds going on, the vice-president has debunked the propaganda arising from this and has offered to give up his immunity in order to clear his name. But since he made that offer, nobody has come out to challenge him and I think this has silenced them permanently. It is part of the politics that we play in Nigeria.