A former federal permanent secretary and one-time governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, shares his thoughts on the diversity of the country, criticism against power shift and the politics of the Igbo ethnic nationality, as well as its relationship with others. KUNLE ODEREMI brings the excerpts of the interview.
THE tempo of public discourse of the 2023 presidential contest is rising by the day, with some notable individuals from the North insisting that power must remain in the region at the expiration of the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari. What is your view on the unfolding debate and the issues therein?
Formerly, I was thinking of equity, justice and fairness for South-East to have it. But now, I’m thinking different because I think we have problems in Nigeria and some people may be more interested and know what to do in order to keep it and the people of the South-East are in every part of Nigeria. They have committed most to Nigeria; they have even the greatest interested in Nigeria. They are the people who make Nigeria look like a nation because of their being everywhere in the country. I think the people from the south-East transit Nigeria and their interest in Nigeria is commerce. They want to do business in Nigeria. They are not interested in dominating politics in the country. We want the presidency in 2023 for the South-East and that is for sure and then we want to develop the country, organize it; to fix it and ensure justice to Igbo, justice to Hausa, justice to all Nigerians. We have to work hard for that and after that, all we need is a level-playing field in the economy. We don’t want to dominate the presidency the way the North has.
Some people are insinuating that if the South-East produces president, we would try to revenge all of the past things; the pull-Igbo-down action of the present government. We are talking about justice. You should know your people; our people will compete among themselves. They are not out to pull down the Hausa, Fulani or the Yoruba. No, our people will even poll down themselves more than they pull down other people. So, we want Nigeria because we like the big market, Nigeria and if we get it, and we get to restructuring so that Nigeria can develop.
Yes, you mentioned restructuring; which one do you think the Igbo want first: restructuring or the presidency in 2023?
For Nigeria as a whole, the best is restructuring and the Yoruba have told you that if you don’t restructure, they would not vote in the presidential election. And I am not sure that there will be a presidential election if there is no restructuring because who likes to be the poverty capital of the world. Instead of what the World Bank said before the (1966) military coup that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than the rest of the world if the restructure we had then made it possible, we changed the restructure to win the war, the Nigerian-Biafran War. It was because of the war that we created 12 states and after the war, we didn’t go back to the structure, which made parts of the country grow faster than the rest of the world. Instead, what we had is the structure that makes Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. Do we want to retain it? Or don’t we see the problem: the problem of dominance by the Federal Government; the problem of governors doing what they like with the money of the states? That did not happen under the old structure. It is unjust to go back to that old structure. We have six zones now; we cannot make it two zones because of the complications in the Middle Belt. We can because of the Middle Belt say ok, let us have 12; each of the existing zones converted into zones. That’s it and you will see progress and Nigeria will begin to explode in development and raise the pride and dignity of Black people. Today, we are a shame to Black people because of the structure that doesn’t allow progress; today, conscience is dead in Nigeria and comprehensive corruption has taken over. Most people in government are looking for self-interest. But if we restructure, everybody will focus on his region or zone finances and no governor will use public fund the way he likes and hope that the anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will not disturb him. The zones will have their own controlling factors.
For the Igbo to get the presidency, they will need to work on other stakeholders in the Nigerian project. Or do you foresee it being delivered on a platter of gold?
We don’t even want it on a platter of gold because political power is not given; it is taken, but you don’t take it by force. You go persuading people. Today, a Yoruba a person who is leading the project for Igbo prudent; today, Kaduna has such an individual as well. Today, Kano, for more than two years, has young men, who have been working on the same project and now, there is one young man from Edo living in the United States, who is more committed to the project than any Igbo man I know and he has organised international financing to deal with it. In fact, in one of the meetings, it was said that any Igbo man who comes out, he would not spend one kobo on the project; that the money will come from outside Nigeria. So, if you look at what is going on, you would know that it is the will of God. Some of my friends in the North said they want to be president, well God dey; Allah inana! But that God is a God of fairness; God of Justice; God of equity. I’m happy that the pan-Yoriuba organization, Afenifere is really the most audacious group in Nigeria and I’m not surprised that they understand the quest for Igbo president.
While the South-East may be getting support on the Igbo presidency project, some people believe the activities of a few pan-Igbo groups appear to threaten the overall objective; that the activities of for instance, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), are antithetical to the Igbo presidency project.
That is wrong. How can you beat a child and say he shouldn’t cry? What is happening in Nigeria is that the present government is pursuing a policy of pull Igbo down; exclude Igbo in everything; humiliate Igbo; make 27 percenters of them. The most recent is the promotion carried out in the Nigeria Police Force: 12 appointment went to the North-West; eight from the North-East; four from the Middle Belt; six from the South-West and only one appointment was made from the South-East. In fact, if you go the South-East and say, ‘what do you want: Biafra or presidency,’ the women and the young boys will say Biafra. If you should have a referendum there today, I won’t be surprised if they win. But it will be against their own interest and against the interest of Nigeria and against the interest of the Fulani, Yoruba and every ethnic nationality in Nigeria. A breakup of Nigeria is not in the interest of any group and of course, if you continue with this pull Igbo down policy and deny them also the presidency, then you have excluded them from the country and then, Biafra becomes automatic.
Another issue that is seen as constituting an encumberance in the project is the disagreement among the Igbo elite over the choice of the president-general of the pan-Igbo organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo; that the dispute marks a sore point in the drive by the south-East for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023. A rival group of Igbo statesmen insist they will not recognize the choice of Professor Obiozor as the new helmsman.
You are a journalist; you follow development in Nigeria. We have a constitution and a tradition. If that constitution or tradition is not followed in bringing out somebody, do you think the people must accept it? No! let me ask you: if you are giving money to vote for somebody, would you like Option A4, where you are supposed to go and queue up behind the person you are voting for? If you do that, the person who gave you money will know that you are not voting as paid for. Why was Option A4 used? And that was the last thing. Why was a candidate picked by Imo elders to be imposed on all Igbo because after picking, they took the person to Imo, the governor and other people therefore making it that the person has already become the president-general; they lobbied all the governors and then, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, who moved to the APC recently, came a major driver of Obiozor for president-general. Please, note that Professor Obiozor is a friend of many of us but improper thing cannot stand. He was not properly elected. Every delegate was given money and after giving every delegate money, you employed Option A4; that the delegates should go and queue behind the candidate they are to vote for, for what reason? We haven’t done that before. Why? It was unnecessary. So, our people are not accepting this. The real Igbo people, who can be hungry and refuse food, do not accept. The people, who accept it are people who are money conscious, who may be hungry.
Interested individuals in the presidential race from the North harp on the need to use merit as opposed to zoning in determining the best should lead the country in the next political dispensation….
Well, I don’t need to answer that question. You can provide the answer. When it comes to merit, you that from the South-East and the South-West, you have more merit than the North. Go to London, go the America, you wll see our people doing political thing more than you will see northern people doing political thing. We have people in offices in America, London and elsewhere. In commerce or technology, you see our people making waves as frontiers of technology in foreign lands. So, merit is something that God gave us and if it is merit, then, we will queue up and become president. We are not interested as much in politics as in business. The only reason why we are talking about a president of Igbo extraction is to make sure that we belong; to show that we are accepted in Nigeria and after that, we don’t care again as long as there is a level-playing field in the scheme of things.
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