Igbo leader and one-time minister of health, Professor ABC Nwosu speaks on 2023 elections. Excerpts:
You have been silent for a long time. What happened?
I found that I am getting old and that I require medical attention, so I have spent a good deal of time outside the country on my medicals and I am fully back now to work with my colleague on the subject of nation building and presidency from the South East. I am glad to tell you that our determination to produce a Nigerian president from the South east zone is still on course.
So you think that the project is still realizable?
It is very realisable now than when we started. The reason is very simple because you can’t build any nation on injustice, unfairness and inequity. A nation must work for all its citizens. You can’t have a nation of different citizens when it is time to give to the nation the best you exclude certain citizens. Nigeria is now going through one of the most trying times of its history and nationhood and it needs all citizens to put hands on deck to pull Nigeria from the brink. It cannot be business as usual of dishing out patronages, collecting oil blocks, importing petrol and hoarding petrol-dollar outside the country. Something new and drastic has to happen this time and that strengthens me that considering equity and justice, it is the South East that has the best chance to produce the next Nigerian president.
Are the Igbo really united to pursue this presidency?
Ndgbo are more ready than any other group has been in Nigeria in the struggle for the presidency. First, you can feel it in the blood of every Igbo person that there is a glass ceiling stopping them from attaining certain political positions in their own God-given country. Ndigbo are being made to think that the civil war is not over and they really cannot be trusted in their own country by their fellow citizens. Throughout Igbo land especially among the youths, the feeling is palpable that when it comes to political positions, appointments and patronage Ndigbo are made to remain on the fringes as second class citizens. Consequently, the 2023 presidency has become for Ndigbo a sort of DNA test as to whether they are children of the same patent, Nigeria, with the other citizens.
So it appears the strongest reason that the South East zone is putting forward for their claim to the presidency is equity-based on zoning?
What stronger reason can there be in a plural society running a negotiated federation?. Nigeria is a negotiated federation by our founding fathers not from one group nor for one group. Our founding fathers had constitutional conferences in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, UK, before constitutions were drawn up for the federation and three regions.
Why are people behaving in Nigeria as if they were born yesterday and have decided to erase history as if Nigeria was founded by one group? The zoning was confirmed in 1995 in the Abacha Constitutional Conference which was set up by Decree and members to that conference were elected. Members included the leaders of Nigeria such as General Shehu Yar’adua, Senator Olusola Saraki, IGP Gambo, Professor Jibril Aminu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Dee Sam Mbakwe, , Dr. Bode Olajumoke e.t.c.
A major decision reached by that conference which was set up by law and which had full constituent powers, that is the powers to make a new constitution, reached an agreement which stipulated that the presidency shall rotate between the North and the South.
The motion was moved by Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the Chairman was Justice Karibi Whyte and there was commotion in the International Conference Centre when the motion was moved. I was there as the Head of Igbo Secretariat to the Conference.
When the draft constitution that was to be promulgated into law was printed by the Federal Government printer it contained that provision namely that the presidency of Nigeria shall rotate between the North and the South. It also contained the provision for two Vice Presidents – one Vice President from the zone of Mr. President so that if the president died or was incapacitated, the Vice President from his zone will complete their tenure in hindsight we can see how there would have been no doctrine of necessity and Nigeria’s present conundrum(if that proposal was accommodated in the constitution).
We have started again. For people like me, I just wonder when a settled matter can become a settled matter. In 1967 some of us naively thought ABURI settled it. In 1995 we thought the Abacha Conference settled it. You can see why some of us are pushing that when agreements have been reached such as rotational presidency, they should be honoured. It is decent, it is honorable, it is the sure way to nation-building and in due time I will publish details of the agreement, who said what and who was present.
How do you react to the fear of other groups that the Igbo are more interested in Biafra than Nigeria?
Of course, that is wayo. Other Nigerians know that IPOB and MASSOB are reactions to marginalization of Ndigbo and no more, which is greatly hurting and upsetting to, especially the Igbo youths.
They think that their fathers have enjoyed the good things Nigeria offered and that they are not ready to fight for them. It is very troubling for them to see themselves stagnate while other Nigerians progress in civil service and armed forces e.t.c.
And the last straw is that they are not represented anywhere in the Security Council of their nation and nobody cares about this. For people who are about the most populous in Nigeria, this is really most troubling to our youths.
We are the most peripatetic group in Nigeria. We are found everywhere in Nigeria. Why have the others not refused to marry our daughters or for our sons to marry their daughters because we are Biafrans? This is just wayo to deprive us of what is our due. The civil war ended in 1970, I was a commissioned officer in the Biafran Army, same as most of us from late Ojo Maduekwe to others, why were they not afraid of us when we were Ministers in Nigeria? Why were they not afraid that Dr. Alex Ekwueme in 1979 when he became the Vice President will carry Nigeria to Biafra? T
If this is your view sir, why are there so many problems in the South East with IPOB and ESN?
The discontent is created by the intense marginalization of Ndigbo since 2015. So, it produced a reaction which the Igbo elites have been unable to check. Igbo youths argue that it is not just enough to be alive, they say that it is better for them to engage in all these activities like banditry and others elsewhere. They say they have reached a point of not knowing what else to do with life of intense marginalisation offered to them by Nigeria. The elites including me are convinced that once the entire marginalization is stopped, the problems will seize because the problems were not there before 2015.
But it appears that the South East has a strategy of threatening other groups that it is either the Presidency or Biafra rather than playing the politics well?
No. There is a proverb in Igbo that says that you can’t keep slapping a child and at the same time stopping that same child from crying because of the pain of the wound they are inflicting on him. The South East is engaging fellow Nigerians, pleading with them to look at its pains from the injustice that Nigeria has continued to mete out to the South East. It is a matter of seeing your neighbor crying, seeing your neighbor punished undeservedly or treated unfairly and showing concern or not showing concern. Ndigbo are saying that the answer shall not be blowing in the wind.
The answer must be in affirmative action, redressing the injustice. Nations are founded on justice .
What then is the strategy of the South East?
The strategy of the South East is to show Nigerians that Ndigbo who they consider to be their problem will turn out to be the solution to the present situation. Ndigbo know what it takes to pull Nigeria back from the brink and point it to the path of true development. Ndigbo know that a sack that is empty cannot stand upright, but a sack full of rice, beans or garri stands upright strong, and they (Ndigbo) expect those Nigerians discerning and understanding enough to appreciate this and let Nigeria fulfill its mission in the world.
Does the South East have likely candidates?
Definitely. Yes. Igbo aspirants shall be those that meet the criteria developed by Ndigbo. First, Ndigbo love competence, learning and challenge and will definitely not give support to an ignoramus who has no capacity or ability to develop quality instruments that will bring Nigeria out of the brink. Emphasis shall be on integrity, integrity, integrity not candidates who have questions to answer on their integrity and handling of public funds. A general consideration for Ndigbo is that in this coming election the youths shall constitute a large voting demography.