Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a former governor of Anambra State will turn 80 next week. In this encounter, he looks at life at 80 and the country and suggests that as the 2019 election approaches, Nigerians should pray as INEC could not be trusted to conduct a free and fair election.
How do you feel being 80?
Life at 80 should be relaxed and pleasant. But in today’s Nigeria, life at 80 is disappointing. I feel particularly disappointed. I do not contribute to the happiness of the youth. I can help, but I am not in a position to help. Merit does not count in today’s Nigeria. Where you come from, not what you know, is what counts.
What’s the secret of your looking young and feeling strong at 80?
Thank you for the compliment. Indeed, I did not know that I am looking young and feeling strong at 80. I thank God for what you have observed about me. I hope God keeps it that way.
Honestly, I do not know anything I should have done differently.
A lot of people are dying young due to stress and lifestyle preferences. What’s the secret of your longevity?
When people die, it is presumptuous to say that they died young, or blame their death on life style. I thank God to have seen my 80th birthday. I thank God! I am not aware of any secrets I have. Perhaps I have been taken good care of, given good food, good advice etc.
You used to be active politically but you have slowed down even before now. Why?
In my view, your observation is not correct. I can say that when I turned 70 and withdrew from party politics that must have given the impression of slowing down. I played a role in the Southsouth,/Southeast emergence in Nigeria. From there, we got, to Southern Nigeria People’s Assembly. Right now, we have South/Middle Belt Forum. Nigerian Elders Forum has held, so far, two meetings. We are working still very hard but less in the open.
You preached the politics of progressivism and even wrote a book. Can you rehash it for those not familiar with it and the difference it could make in the polity.
Progressivism is the ideology of progressives. It is an ideology which insists on things being made as good as they can be. Most Nigerian politicians have no political ideology at all. It is anything goes. With progressivism, it is a return to values counting, it is a return to integrity, away from corruption. Africa needs the progressive ideology to replace anything goes politics of today, which has reduced the first sons and daughters of God to the foot-mat of the world.
Almost everybody is talking about restructuring. What form of restructuring would you proffer for Nigeria?
Most of us seem to misunderstand the import of restructuring. In 1954, our founding fathers agreed on a political structure for Nigeria, namely, a federal structure, with regions as the federating units. The success of that structure is attested by the statement by the world bank that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than the rest of the world. A different statement is making waves today. Theresa May declared that Nigeria is leading the world in poverty. Those who know are calling for restructuring which is going back to that agreed structure which made parts of Nigeria grow faster than the rest of the world, because they were growing at their own paces. What is the difference? There was a coup in 1966. And the Coup led to the Nigerian-Biafran War. The Nigerian military wanted to win the war fast and decided to isolate the Igbo from the rest of the eastern Nigeria so that Ojukwu’s interest would stop with the Igbo. That led to a structural change – the creation of states – twelve states in the place of four regions. Instead of returning to regions after the war, the military created 36 states and 774 local government areas – mostly, without any consideration for fairness.
So, in the context of Nigerian political history, the word re-structuring, which is now very current, should be quite simple, straight forward and without complications, yet some people seem to have difficulties with it. In substance, it really, simply, calls for our going back to the ‘’agreed Nigeria’’, that is, going back to the structure or political arrangements of Nigeria, as agreed by our founding fathers – our heroes past! That ‘’agreed Nigeria’’ was a federal structure, with regions as federating units. Initially there were three regions: Eastern, Western and Northern regions. Midwestern region was created later, making four regions: three in the South, one in the North. Each region had its own constitution and operated fairly autonomously. The Federal Government handled issues universally agreed to be federal responsibilities – issues like: external relations, currency, weights and measures etc.
There was fiscal federalism as the resources for running the Federal Government came, basically, from the federating units. Each region controlled its resources and grew at its own pace. The people owned their regions in the sense that people in the regions were, particularly, concerned about how their regions were run. That was mainly because the money spent in the regions was basically internally generated – contributed by the people of the regions, through taxation, other payments etc. That is different from the present situation, wherein revenues ‘’come’’ from the Federation Account. With that former structure there was peace and satisfactory progress. The agreed structure was rubbished by the Nigerian military, at the beginning of the Nigeria/Biafra conflict.
To win, easily, the Nigeria/Biafra war (then predicted to be only a ‘’police action’’), the strategy was adopted to isolate the Igbo from the rest of eastern Nigeria. Twelve states were thus created: six in the North, six in the South. The running of Nigeria was also made more fully adapted to military central command system. This central command has given Nigeria a unitary, as opposed to, federal, structure of government. After the war, the military continued to run the government in Nigeria – making it progressively more unitary and more dictatorial. It was thus easy for the military to, basically dictatorially, create not only new states, but also new local government areas (LGAs), without considering the fairness of their creation or distribution. Today, we have are 36 states plus Abuja, sometimes treated as if it were a state, 19 states in the North, 17 in the South. The imbalance in the distribution of local government areas (LGAs) is, by far, more pronounced. For example, Kano and Jigawa (which was created out of Kano) have between them almost as many local government areas as the whole of the Southeast geo-political zone; Kano has 44 LGAs, Lagos 20, Bayelsa 8, etc. Both the states and the LGAs get allocations of revenue from the Federation Account. The unfairness of these military creations should be problematic, but that is not the main reason for the clamour for restructuring. The main problem is that as the country is currently structured and run, the country is growing backwards – indeed, taking giant steps backward. The Nigerian people at federal, state and LGA levels do not police the expenditure of revenues allocated from the Federation Account, and this and other factors, have led to monumental corruption which has eaten deep into, and permeated, every fabric of the society, leading to the comprehensive and woeful failure of Nigeria. We note that the very well composed 2014 National Conference approved the creation of additional 18 states. Those who doubted the wisdom of so many new states, should think of the new suggestion of twelve regions and 52 states for the Middle Belt. The problem is that the extent of dehumanisation and suffering to which some Nigerians are subjected cannot be imagined by many Nigerians.
Flood: NEMA distributes relief items to IDPs in Rivers
Today people, especially the people from the North, see restructuring as simply resources control whose effect is simply to deny oil money to Northern states. The truth is that resources control will result in developing adequate internally, generated revenue for the states and that the federal government will develop a project for growing internally generated revenue for the each states. And such projects must mature before any cut off of revenue from the states.
It’s almost four years of Buhari’s regime and Nigeria is preparing for another election. Buhari wants a come-back. How do you rate his chances?
Nigeria is in the hands of God. If God wants Buhari to come back, no man can stop him. But as seen by man, Buhari’s government has been a comprehensive failure. This judgement is reached by all. Only those who selfishly want to gain from Buhari’s return are praying and working for such return.
The PDP has produced Atiku Abubakar as its presidential standard-bearer. Do you think he is a formidable challenge for Buhari in 2019 elections?
Atiku Abubakar is a knock out for Buhari. Many people do not see any contest at all. All that Nigerians need to do is to pray God to plant justice and fairness in the hearts of INEC Officials – that is all that is needed.
Do you trust this INEC to produce a free and fair election?
I do not trust INEC in the circumstances of today’s Nigeria to produce a free and fair election. That is why Nigerians should go on their knees. God loves Nigeria and a new government of a New Nigeria is on the way.
What is the problem with the Igbo?
The Igbo are a people of destiny. Their affairs are in the hands of the Almighty God. It will appear that God has turned a positive face to the Igbo and that means good things are on the way. Igbo moving up means no more Talakawa and no more Almagiri as we drag all Nigerians up.
The Igbo will take their progress and development to the all Nigerians. Contrary to what some people think, the Igbo are more united than most peoples of Nigeria. Out of central power, the Igbo answer calls any time they are called.
Why are the Igbo their own greatest enemies?
Igbos are their greatest friends not their greatest enemies.
Do you perceive the Igbo playing the topmost fiddle in the scheme of things in Nigeria?
Yes, I can see the Igbo playing the topmost role in the scheme of things in Nigeria, and that will no longer take a long time to happen. And when they do, the rest of Nigeria shall move up with them as they pull all Nigerians with their egalitarianism
What do the Igbo want?
What the Igbo want is what is best for Nigeria. What is the best for Nigeria is restructuring. That is what Igbo want.
Why were some Igbo leaders opposed to Peter Obi vice-presidency?
Igbo leaders are not opposed to Peter Obi as Vice President. There was a an issue of consultation which was not so serious. There has been no doubt about the suitability of Peter Obi. The surprise is that every Nigerian prefers Peter.
What future do you perceive for Igbo in Nigeria?
The Igbo are in the hands of God. Their future is as ordained of God. The Igbo will continue in Nigeria until their suffering reaches the point of ‘’eji ndu eme gini’’. By God’s grace, that point will never be reached.
What’s your advice for IPOB and other pro-Biafra groups?
IPOB and other Biafra groups should concentrate on the true interests of the Igbo and on how to achieve them. I have difficulties understanding the language of ‘no elections’’.
The youths in Nigeria are distressed and restless. What do you think will calm them down?
Good government and positive economic development will calm the youths in Nigeria. Unemployment, hunger, insecurity, and restlessness are the problems.
Nigeria must exploit what she has to get what she needs. In this line, we should exploit our oil crude reserve to grow our economy. I have proposed this several times. I hope the in-coming government understands this.