BY SAMSON EZEA AND NKECHI ONYEDI
PROF. A.B.C Nwosu, former Minister of Health and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), speaks on the state of insecurity in the country, Igbo Presidency in 2015, corruption and other issues.
The Igbo are clamouring for the Presidency in 2015, do you think it would be possible?
People get the leadership that they deserve, but the Bible also says that where there is no vision, the people perish, I weep for the Southeast and beyond, I won’t say more. There are people who promised the Ohanaeze leadership that power will go to Southeast in unbroken succession in 2015 from the Southsouth, that was their solemn word and that was what the Ohanaeze leadership told Ndigbo last year. So, we must hold them to their words if not, and the people should disgrace them thoroughly, because if we don’t disgrace them, another set will come up again. When a leadership says this is what they will deliver and they don’t deliver it, the followership should sanction them.
What were the factors that hindered previous moves by the Southeast to clinch power in the country?
The Igbo got the first Presidency of Nigeria, but it was a ceremonial president during the time of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. It has not always been like this with the Igbo. After independence, it was Azikiwe until 1966. The situation changed when we had the executive president in 1979, after the civil war had intervened. There is a school of thought that believes that the Igbo, having fought the civil war, should never be allowed to be President again until centuries have passed. There is also another school of thought that says ‘no, the Igbo have paid their dues and are entitled to the exercise of their full citizenship rights, including the Presidency’. The Igbo believed they must produce the President and in 1979, they came near it with Chief Alex Ekwueme as Vice President. Perhaps, if the military hadn’t intervened in 1983, Ekwueme might have become the President at the end of Shagari’s second term, but the military intervened and later there was June 12 presidential election, which was won by the late Chief MKO Abiola. Because of that, in 1999, it had to be exclusively Southwest issue.
Now, the Igbo are saying that they also need to become part of the equation and they reached an agreement with the Southwest, South-south in 2007 that the we didn’t mind if a Southsouth was, that was why some of us gave Dr. Peter Odili our best support in his presidential quest in 2007. Now that the Southsouth has produced the President, the only people who have not produced president is Southeast and we are saying we should produce. We are not anti-anybody, we are just pro-Igbo.
I respect the Yoruba the way they canvassed, pushed and held on to June 12. They are a people, they didn’t have to agree, but they made June 12 an issue and Nigeria recognised that June 12 was an issue. They presented a credible threat and were recognized.
I salute people like Chief Edwin Clark, though I will not go with him, but I salute him for his spirited defence of his people. He is a soldier of his people and a defender of Ijaw rights and I respect his tenacity. Because of that and the resource control issue, they also presented a credible threat and have become a force in Nigeria and Nigeria has recognised them.
But my heart bleeds when it comes to the Igbo, and then I weep again for the late Ikemba Odimegwu Ojukwu. And I ask, when will some leaders emerge from Igbo and say, ‘this is us, we mean no harm, but we are citizens of Nigeria and are entitled to full citizenship as a right’.
Not for people to be looking for where they are sharing porridge and running into the place, collect plates of porridge and vanish. It has always been an issue and each Igbo man must choose what he wants.
What is your view on the proposals submitted by Ohanaeze leadership on the amendment of the country’s constitution?
I needed a tranquilizer when I saw the president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo presenting a proposal to the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
I have four issues with that; if you are presenting a proposal on my behalf, at least, I ought to know what it is, it was in the pages of the newspapers that I heard that it was a six-year single term and I know it flies in the face of what Ndigbo has been asking for. My first quarrel was: why don’t they let our people see what they are submitting their behalf? How did they arrive at the decision? They can’t just wake up and begin to act as if nothing else occurred before now? I saw the one submitted by Delta State which was published in the newspaper. It was specific that Federal powers must be devolved to the states and it quoted specific sections of the constitution that they want to be amended.
I am not saying that they shouldn’t do it, but it will be easier if they carry everybody along and publish the proposal on the pages of the newspaper. Nothing will be lost because this thing is not a secret document. The Igbo people are not seeking something that is anti-Nigeria.
Many believe that corruption has worsened in the country since 1999 and the government is not doing enough to curb, do you agree?
I was shocked on May 29, 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed me as Political Adviser and brought me into his government without knowing me.
We had never met as at that time, he had never seen me and I remembered that we went into the small room in the Villa after we congratulated him. I told him that I am Prof A.B.C Nwosu, he held me and took me into the small room and said, he wanted me to work with him and he had two bills with him that day he was sworn in. The Bill on Niger Delta Development (NDDC Bill). I will always say the truth, if anybody says it is an afterthought from Obasanjo, it is not true. He came to the Presidency determined to set up the NDDC to redress the injustice meted to the Niger Delta. How he ended up, he will be in the best position to tell us, but I know he showed me the Bill.
The second bill he showed me was the Anti-Corruption Bill, and he wanted me to do a research on how countries of the world had dealt with corruption and set up their anti-corruption agencies and the kind of powers they have.
The most charitable thing I can say is that corruption is still with us, and it illustrated what the Igbo man wrote on his motor that ‘to be a man is not a day’s job’. To fight corruption in Nigeria is not a day job, because corruption will fight back. So we have to fight it, if we don’t fight it, it will undo us as a nation. It diminishes our sovereignty and ability to fulfill our destiny in the world, so we must fight it.
Let’s forget yesterday, let’s start from today. This current Senate has identified wrongdoings in the privatization; we can fight it by doing something about that. We can look at the report, it is a report from our Senate, we can deal with it, we can deal with the corruption witnessed in the pension probe, it is mind-boggling. That brings us to the subsidy scam. What can stop corruption is that anybody who is caught in corruption is arraigned and jailed in accordance with the law. That is why you see people looking for General Muhammed Buhari; he sentenced people to unbelievable jail terms which they served some. If you catch a person, you send him to jail and make him forfeit some of those property and people see it.
What is your reaction to the state of insecurity across the country today with the killings in Jos and Boko Haram?
Everybody is worried, including the security agencies. My problem is that worrying about this cannot give us security. It is doing something about it that will give us security and I want to suggest that we can do something about it by engaging traditional rulers. Not just in places where we have security problems, but also all over the country.
I am convinced that we all have a firm resolve that the security problem cannot go on anymore, because I don’t think there is anybody who is benefitting from it. The problem is diminishing Nigeria’s sovereignty.
For somebody who witnessed the civil war, it is frightening. The thing has gotten out of hand and out of control and the only way to control it is to engage the traditional rulers and the various stakeholders. It is not of religion, and it is a matter of sovereignty, nationhood and citizenship.
We need to be firm about how the coercive agencies of the state are handling this matter. Murder and arson are criminal offences of the worst order. We have a proverb that says, “ If a small child craws and bites an old man without respecting the grey hair, the old man should craw back and bite the child on the buttock without respecting whatever he sees there.”
So if these people kill and maim people, the coercive agencies should use maximum force to establish the sovereignty of Nigeria. This insecurity issue has gone so far that it has to be dealt with decisively now.
Is the high rate of unemployment in the country a contributory factor to the problem?
Unemployment is a major factor because an idle mind is the devils workshop. The level of unemployment is intolerable and nobody is happy with it, but there are people who are paid by government to think out programmes that will keep people employed in a sustainable manner.
We cannot import tricycles popularly Keke NAPEP from India and tell a graduate of Chemistry to be driving and say it’s employment. What we are facing in the world is not new, America and Britain have gone through depression and a major way of creating employment in a sustainable manner is through massive investment in public works.
If government decides now to build one million housing units in Nigeria today, do you know the number of people who will be employed? Not Keke NAPEP for God’s sake. Or this thing they are doing, call young boys and give them lectures, after the lectures, they give them N5 million and ask them to go and be entrepreneurs and employers of labour. That again to me is again laughable. We should have a way of encouraging small and medium scale industries in a measurable way.
The Nigerian market is huge, we don’t have to export, we have over 160 million people. If we make enough quality goods and people buy into it, it is enough to create employment. The one that my heart bleeds as I drive to Enugu is the Ajaokuta steel. There are so many buildings that have passed lintel level, they have been wasting away for over 20 years. Ajaokuta is not only a steel factory, it is steel city. That is why you have hospitals, residential quarters and others there.
Ajaokuta Steel can conveniently absorb thousands of unemployed youths. Why should we leave the fate of people like that to some nonsensical privatization which every probe has found wanting.
I was one of the authors of the PDP manifesto, we believed in private sector-led economy, but we did not say that we would auction off the entire economy to whatever private sector. We have no national carrier, how many countries do you know that don’t have national carriers? Because of private sector, they go and bring 30-year-old aircrafts into Nigeria airspace. That is a shame.
This is 13 years of Democracy in Nigeria, do you think we have done well?
I laugh whenever I hear that US spent 200 years before they got to where they are today. The issue is that people learn from people’s experiences, so that you don’t have to go through the same thing. We have more than enough time. What are we learning that nobody should rule another person without the persons’ consent? When you rig the election, you are ruling without the consent of the people, is that what you need 500 years to learn? Do we need 500 years to draw up people’s constitution?
GUARDIAN NIGERIA INTERVIEW AUGUST 4, 2012