Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a leading figure in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and campaign for restructuring, speaks on the report of the 2014 National Conference, ongoing constitution review by the National Assembly and the Igbo presidency project. Below are the excerpts of the interview.
HAVING been one of the leading lights that championed the cause of the return to the civil rule 21 years ago on May 29, 1999, how would you assess the journey so far?
The journey so far seems to be like going from light into darkness. Many Nigerians are thinking it is over with Nigeria. Some people are waiting for the total collapse. With all the people coming now from the north to the south, we hear of the guns being discovered in places, we hear the women crying about their cassava, their rice, and all they had planted being eaten up by cows.
We hear about insecurity everywhere, southern Kaduna on a regular base and everywhere else, even, in Katsina. There is insecurity everywhere. And many people think that nobody shows concern on all the negatives. So, the journey so far is like taking giant steps backwards instead of making progress.
What is worse today is that conscience is dead in Nigeria and only those who want to resurrect conscience should be involved. A new Nigeria must come up. I do not believe that God created Nigeria, gave it all He gave it. We have a duty as people, created as Nigerians. Our duty is to raise the respect and dignity of the black man. Today, we are a shame to the black man. We have realized our feelings and begin to rebuild.
What we need in Nigeria are rebuilders – people who really deeply understand the role Nigeria has to play for the black people of this world. Such people should be thinking of a new Nigeria. The Nigeria we know is gone but it can be revived.
You said the Nigeria we know is gone. What went wrong? How do you mean?
Well, let me give you my view of what went wrong. Between 1945 and 1966, Nigeria was making progress. To attest to that, the World Bank itself declared that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than the rest of the world. This part of Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria and part of Western Nigeria, included. In 1966, there was a coup and the military who ruled Nigeria from that point till today comprehensively ruined Nigeria.
First was the Civil War. For Nigeria to win the Civil War easily, people decided to isolate the Igbo from the rest of the East. How can you do it? It would be obvious if you go straight and do it. But the best way to do it is to make a change in Nigeria. And there was a change in the structure of Nigeria from regions to states.
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12 states were created by Yakubu Gowon. So, a structural change occurred even after the war. We didn’t go back to the structure that worked, the regional structure with a federal government that was truly federal. Instead, the military leaders kept creating new states, new local government areas so that we got up to 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as if it were a state. In the process of ruling us and ruining us, the military created things that would diverse our attention from the economy and our finances. We started fighting religious and ethnic wars.
Ethnicity became very rife, the same with religion. These were diversionary tactics and when you say you return to civilian rule, the military, still, dominated the civilian rule. So, those who can see have called for restructuring. Restructuring transcends going back to the structure of Nigeria which worked well at its own pace and gave motivation for every region to develop and compete with the rest.
So, our people, the leaders today, know what the problems are. However, to restructure is problematic because some people are confusing restructuring with resource control. Some people think that the moment you restructure, regions must control their resources and the oil money will not flow the same way. I think that it is wrong. We will negotiate it; It is not automatic that in restructuring; oil money is flowing to the North or to any part of the country.
But, don’t you think that resource control ought to be a major factor in restructuring? I mean the idea of every region claiming ownership of their resources and contributing a certain percentage for the upkeep of the centre.
Well, before we cut off oil money from everywhere, we must have created the replacement in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). And it is the function the Federal Government will work on. It will be abandoned to local governments and states. So, people who are afraid of restructuring because of resource control are making mistake and prolonging poverty.
The National Assembly is currently trying to amend 1999 Constitution, believing that it is could solve the strident agitations for restructuring and other demands. Don’t you thing the effort of the National assembly is the best way to rather than people agitating for restructuring, national conference or national question?
What is the composition of your National Assembly? I asked you that question, knowing that you know the answer. You cannot use the National Assembly to do what will revive Nigeria. The National Assembly is dominated by the north. Therefore, they fight against what does not favour the region, even if in the overall interest of the nation.
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Myopic thinking dominates the National Assembly. We know we have to grow, we have done what should be done. 2014 confab has all the solutions we need in this country. It was the most representative, thoughtful, robust effort to revive Nigeria.
But the opposition political party, then, claimed it was not representative and that most of its members were not there.
No political party was represented at the confab but Nigerians were effectively and properly represented there. The people who were able, the youths, the women were fully represented there. All parts of Nigeria were fully represented in the conference. Any lie can be told and lying has become having no conscience; it becomes a normal thing in Nigeria.
Some individuals are advocating we have another conference to discuss the National Question. You have just mentioned the 2014 conference and its recommendations which, of course, numbered about 600 or so. Do you think we still need a conference to address the national question?
We can get a representative group of people, as representative as 2014 conference, but not as many, to review the situation in the country using the report of the national conference. It is waste time and money to go and begin another national conference. It means that some people are trying to put their myopic interest because we have some people in power now and want to use their myopic interest to come out with the national question.
It is a matter of determination. If we determine to revive Nigeria, we don’t leave it in the hands of any partisan dominated group. In this, let the constitution of the membership of the 2014 confab be publicised and let it be criticised to see whether there’s any part of Nigeria that’s not effectively represented.
One dominant issue at the moment is the claim that the government has not been fair in terms of appointments into strategic positions in the country, including agencies and departments. What is your take?
The constitution of Nigeria, even the one we are running now is a fraud because it was said that “we, the people of Nigeria gave ourselves that constitution”. We didn’t give ourselves that constitution; the military gave us. But even the military, one-sided as they were, provided for federal character in the governance of Nigeria. But, the federal character provisions seem to be completely dead in application.
It is obvious in terms of appointments in the military, security, headship of security bodies, appointments in every dimension. Every sector is dominated by one group, not even one geographical zone. One religious group dominates appointments. I don’t think we can do the kind of amendments that can be satisfactory unless we are taking a group of people we know are nationalists and giving them assignments to review the reports of the 2014 confab. That is the way to go.
From all these issues, do you have any fear for this country? What are the imports of some of these challenges for the future of the country?
I started by telling you that in the view of some people, Nigeria is becoming past tense but that there may be a lot of people committed to Nigeria’s responsibility to raise the respect and dignity of black man by developing it to a super power and showing conscience on display. Such people don’t accept this kind of amendments we are talking about in the National Assembly. We know the National Assembly. We know how they came in. So, there is hope that God, who created the country and gave it to us, that God cannot stay and watch its complete disintegration.
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Government is putting some Nigerians out of Nigeria. The Federal Government is taking actions that put some parts of Nigeria out of Nigeria and some elements of Nigeria to be lords and masters over the others. That is not feasible. It is not good for Nigeria. So, I think most of these things have been said before but it was ignored. It’s as if we were all asleep. And that the leadership had a narrow vision of what they wanted to do instead of leading Nigeria. The leadership appears to be promoting some elements in the country.
Nobody seems caring about Nigeria crashing. Today, if we remember our responsibility to black people. We can still do this. Our people are talking about guns, fights, wars. We should think about where we will be after the war.
I’m confused because the problems are clear, the solutions are obvious. But, we are taking further steps away from what is right. I think those who are insisting on One Nigeria should begin to meet. I call upon anybody who believes in the rule of law in Nigeria and in the world to begin to think about new Nigeria and come together to a meeting and make a voluntary new Nigeria. I mean a new Nigeria that is ready to perform God’s assignments of raising the dignity and respect of black and African people.
That is the Nigeria we want, Nigeria where corruption is killed dead, where people go for what they can contribute to the welfare of their people, not what they will do to enrich themselves. Today, political action is no longer a matter of what you do for your nation.
In Nigeria, is it justice that is working? When justice is trampled upon, fairness has no place. Equity is a foreign language. You know that the end has come. We don’t want to stupidly wait for the end. They should do something to change Nigeria. Fulani should look long range about their long time interest. Yoruba should use long range about their long time interest.
Igbo should look long range about their long time interest. Ditto to Hausa. Every group in the country, especially the major ones, can look long range about their interest. A proper exercise in that direction will lead you to support the new Nigeria where fairness, justice and equity can dominate.
As a former governor of Anambra State, I want you to look at the quality of governance at the state level across the country today. Do you see any missing link in terms of quality of governance?
How we come to power is one of the major problems in Nigeria. How individuals who have ambition come to power is a major problem we have now. There was a time it was better, even during the military rule. During the military rule, in the earlier stages, there was a time we created two-party system in the country, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).
Today, if you have money or you have god father who can put you anywhere as governor, you can have your way and buy a position. You may not even contest election and somebody may be removed and you will occupy the vacant position. So, the quality of leadership depends on the process of selection. Now, the justice system can justify anybody. Earlier, I told you that conscience is dead in Nigeria. We have to resurrect conscience before we can make progress.
The Federal Government has succeeded in entrenching the interest of the Igbo into mainstream politics. You have ministers and the government itself is constructing the Second Niger Bridge and roads across the South-East. Isn’t the government doing well for your people?
‘The government is doing fantastically well for the South-East, in fact, more than anywhere else’. The government is pushing the South-East out of Nigeria. The Federal Government has policy, a policy of “pull Igbo down”, “push Igbo out of Nigeria”. You know the truth.
On the palliatives, for example in the most current time, how many went to the Igbo areas? In spite of federal character, how many of those in east are remembered in terms of appointments? Go to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the top jobs there, do you find South-East there? How many south-easterners have oil wells, not even South-East? When I say South-East most of the time, I mean the East generally, including South-South.
Instead, Nigeria planted information and policies meant to distance the South-East from the South-South and weaken them. Some people who think that they are educated, the South-East and the South-West, instead of integrating to help Nigeria, they are playing lone ranger in the Nigerian politics. And they are suffering in consequence. Some people can take advantage of that and make alliances which in the end they lose.
The best thing for Nigeria is in integrity, conscience, fairness, equity. The Yoruba should embrace the Igbo; the Igbo should embrace the Yoruba; the middle-belt should embrace the south. The south should embrace the middle-belt. The Fulani should embrace the rest of Nigeria and make amends. Otherwise, I don’t see hope.
Concerning the agitation for the presidency in 2023, some individuals say the South-East should be given a chance. What is your position on this, as some are against the Igbo presidency project?
I want to restate my position clearly. Nobody will just dash anybody the presidency. As it is, there is a rotation for north/south. So far, the north has dominated the presidency. But it has come to the south too. The west from the south has produced president. The South-South from the south has produced president. Only one zone in the south has not produced president of Nigeria and that is South-East.
But the South-East must do their part in producing president. They can’t just give us any fool to be president. And they must be united among themselves. Let me tell you one thing: in Nigeria, no group is more united than the South-East. It has been out of central power. It has never been president or vice president for more than many years.
Yet, if you call a meeting of South-East, a meeting of the Igbo, they come. The Igbo unity is guaranteed. But, the Igbo shouldn’t wait to be dashed the presidency. If need be, they must kneel to the West and South-South to agree. They must kneel for the North to beg them. They must kneel for the Middle- Belt to beg them; they must beg all Nigerians and beg every effort to do all that is right to producing a president for Nigeria. Therefore, we are not going to believe that we will be dashed the president.
We must do all that it takes to get a president of South-East origin even though we know we are the only ones who have not got it. And we know that fairness, equity and justice will require that we get it. Yet, we must do all that is necessary and if at the end, the Nigerian people don’t vote for our man, we will take it that Nigeria has rejected our citizenship of Nigeria. And person rejected doesn’t reject himself. He manages to his own way. Today, what we call new Nigeria may be coming sooner than we think.
I find so many northern youths in committees to produce a president of South-East origin, even northern elders…. Do you know that a Yoruba man may be sponsoring the 2023 president of the South-East origin and organising conferences for that purpose? The youths of Middle-Belt do not only say they want president of South-East origin, they are planning on how to endorse a candidate and give the candidate the needed backing, even though those Middle-Belt people are supporting the All Progressives Congress (APC). The new Nigeria may be coming earlier than thought.
The South-East will give Nigerians somebody who will fix and elevate Nigeria, somebody who will elevate our economy leading to exclusive growth in the economy. And within Nigeria, every human being is recognized as a human being. No al-majiri and all kinds of educational system will be in place. No talakawa. Every effort will be made for people to produce their own welfare and depend on themselves and have that confidence that they are created by Almighty God equal with the rest of the Nigerians.
The fear in certain quarters is that if we should have the Igbo president, he might want to protect those who have been leading agitations for a Biafran state and couple with the fact the herdsmen are having a field day under the present administration and the fear the Igbo president can equally give that protection to agitators for a Biafran state. How do you see this?
All kinds of things are said in defense of a situation. In defense of the present situation of pushing the Igbo out of Nigeria by Federal Government, in defense of cattle moving around every part of the country and entering classrooms, damaging farms, people will say something. But I’m sure you know that Igbo man make Nigeria look like a nation. This is because anywhere you go in Nigeria, you see him.
Let us forget this “lie-lie” something and especially I don’t know, some of the people who are in government are telling lie and it is like they have no respect for the truth. Everybody knows the truth that we, Igbo, believe in Nigeria. Even, after being tortured, we remain there. Igbo president of Nigeria will change Nigeria for good, modernise Nigeria, develop Nigeria and make every Nigerian equal to every Nigerian.