A former Governor of old Anambra State, who is also a prominent Igbo leader, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, tells RAPHAEL EDE about the South-East desire to produce the president in 2023 and other national issues
Is the South-East ready to take the presidency of Nigeria by 2023?
The people of the South-East are desirous of taking the presidency of Nigeria in 2023 and they want to do everything necessary to get it. If possible, they want to kneel down before the North, South-West, South-South and Middle-Belt; to beg them because of the importance of it. And we are uniting very fast. Igbo are united now for that goal. We will make every necessary sacrifice to get it and I hope Nigerians will see that it is time for justice. It is time for justice, in fact, a new Nigeria is in the making and it will come so, it is time for justice.
Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, has been advocating that zoning arrangements should be dumped for merit. Don’t you see this is an attempt to deny the Igbo this opportunity in 2023?
Well, the North has dominated the presidency of Nigeria, the West has got a fair share; and even the South –South has got some. What offence did the South-East commit? Where is justice in that, that a major section of Nigeria cannot rule? I believe that everybody has the right to ambition. El-Rufai has the right to be ambitious to rule Nigeria and fortunately, he is young, he can wait after the Igbo has taken their turn. I mean equity, justice and fairness require that an Igbo should be next president of Nigeria.
Some groups in the North want power to remain there in the 2023. How do you view their position?
Yes, I heard that statement from Prof Ango Abdullahi and Dr Junaid Muhammed that power should remain in the North for another 100 years. It is easy to say a thing like this. I am happy that some people in the North are not thinking that way. Indeed, some youth groups in the same North came to my house in the village to show support for Igbo presidency in 2023. I am grateful to them and I think we are getting close to a new Nigeria where people can think about fairness. Some young men came and told me what they think about the 2023 and the whole country. Recently, if you have been listening very closely to the ground you will know that there have been some actions in the Middle-Belt. They have even gone far to think about who should be the candidate. So, Nigeria is changing. A new Nigeria is in the making and God must be in charge.
Do you think the Igbo people stand any chance of emerging Nigeria’s president in 2023? What should they do differently?
Well, as far as I can see anybody who is thinking well, thinking about fairness, equity and justice will know that the Igbo have the best chance. However, there are people who may think differently. But you know if the Igbo do what they have to do; unite, lobby and make all necessary move to get the presidency and they are told that they cannot get it because they are Igbo, then of course you are telling them that they are not Nigerians and then should leave Nigeria. That should be the final push on the Igbo to leave Nigeria and I don’t think that is coming. There are limits to unfairness and marginalisation, and I think that is what is going to ensure that the Igbo get what is due to them in 2023. If you tell the Igbo people they are not Nigerians and you reject them; they will not reject themselves if you reject them. So you are pushing them out,(but you are) giving them a final push out.
Recently, the national coordinator of Tinubu-Not-Negotiable 2023, Muri Okunola said that APC would lose if Igbo get the 2023 presidential ticket. How do react to that assertion?
As you know ambition can blind people. It is clear that Tinubu wants to be president as soon as possible. So what he said is affected by that ambition and if APC does not want Igbo president, they should drive away all the Igbo people in their party. But they can pick an Igbo president from among themselves and that is the APC. So, I don’t see the logic in his point. But Tinubu is my friend and he can say anything he likes but I don’t believe he means it.
On January 9, South-West governors launched a security outfit codenamed Operation Amotekun and the Federal Government through the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, has declared that initiative as illegal. What do think about that?
The Federal Government has no right to declare it illegal. Has the Federal Government declared Hisbah illegal? Kano and several other states in the North have Sharia police. Why should the Yoruba case be different? So, any argument on this is a waste of time. I think the South-West has done it and nobody can change it. I think changing it is inviting chaos in Nigeria. If you want to tear Nigeria apart, go and fight the Yoruba security outfit but I don’t think anybody will go to fight it. This country is so blessed by God. God blessed us so well, no earthquake and why should we become the tsunami of Nigeria? We have reached the bottom of unfairness, of injustice. Our courts – our justice system has collapsed, our politics and our democracy have all collapsed and everything is going down. Nigeria must change. A new Nigeria is coming and it is in the making. So, my brother the South-West has reacted to the criticisms against its security outfit and the people have the support of every other part of Nigeria from the South-East to the Middle-Belt to the South-South. I am sure that within some time some other parts of Nigeria will come up with their own security arrangements. Don’t you see what is going on? Is there security in Nigeria? People are being killed as if they are flies. People are losing property. Everything is wrong.
This means, you support community policing as part of measures to tackle banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and other violent crimes. Is that right?
Community policing is inevitable. Community policing becomes a necessity when Nigeria Police can no longer take care of the problems of the community. In Anambra, we have security arrangement which is very good but that is not enough. We have to have South-East security arrangement. It is not a matter of Anambra being happy with their own arrangement, our own is very good yes but we need South-East community security arrangement. I don’t know – there was a time the government said everybody should surrender gun yet people are still moving around with their guns and killing others everywhere.
Between1954 and1965 Nigeria was working well and the World Bank made the statement that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than the rest of the world. What did we do then? We had a good structure, we had a good system and regions were growing at their own pace and growing very fast. There is nothing wrong with going back to a system that works. There is nothing wrong going back to a structure that worked.
Some say Nigeria has jettisoned the concept of true federalism. Is Nigeria not practising true federalism?
Well, of course you know that we are not practising true federalism. There are matters exclusive to the Federal Government which should not be federal responsibility at all let alone being on exclusive list. We know things are collapsing and we are taking giant steps backward. We are not growing. How do you feel when Nigeria is called the poverty capital of the World? I mean these things are not easy to swallow. The system is collapsing and if you don’t take time we will disintegrate and I don’t want that. I wrote a paper on the permanence of one Nigeria but, one Nigeria cannot be permanent with this kind of inequality, injustice and unfairness. So, I believe that the time has come for us to look around and have an emergency restructuring. For those who are afraid on the grounds of revenue allocation, there are ways of solving political and economic problems. They cannot kill us, we can device way of solving revenue allocation problem, revenue generation problem. So people who are afraid that they will lose revenue allocation by restructuring don’t understand. If they want to understand it, let them ask me. There are ways we can solve this problem of revenue allocation at least for the first five years there will be no change at all and then within the five years we build up a structure that enables each local government and state to get effective increases in their revenue generation.
Some people believe that the current regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) is being run in ways that make it look like an exclusive preserve of a particular minority. What is your take on that?
Well, it is not a speculation, that is the truth. Look at the security arrangement – when you said the truth they begin to threaten you with all kinds of things but may God continue to help me to always tell the truth; and if need be pay whatever price anybody is imposing. But I must share the truth. I don’t think that the way the government is going is the right way to go. I don’t think we are being fair and this problem I am saying can hurt the people who are giving this trouble. The Fulani people and remember when I was contesting for president, I got the Miyetti Allah as my friends and they supported me but I didn’t go far of course but the Fulani are intelligent and I don’t see intelligence in what they are doing now. If you are going to antagonize the rest of Nigeria how many are you? How can the Fulani gain by antagonising the rest of Nigeria? Even if Nigeria is to collapse who will suffer the most? I think their leadership should think again because this imposition, you conclude everything, you are head of everything, you have president too, you dominate the whole thing and you think that is good, no! You are making the rest of the country your enemies and that is not good. That cannot help any because what goes up must come down. So, what I’m saying is that, it is not in the interest of the Fulani to antagonise the rest of Nigeria by the way they are dominating everything, every organisation, every policy. They should try and pull back systematically, that will be better. The British who gave them the great advantages are not going to be there forever for them.
Out of anger, some Nigerians are calling for restructuring, some are calling for secession and some beating the drums of war. How do you react to these?
My reaction is to plead with Nigerians to go on their kneels and thank God for the gene of a country he has giving us. Then, pray to God because the hearts of kings are in the hands of God. Pray that God should touch the hearts of our leaders, our politicians for them to realise what they are damaging and turn around to do the right thing that make our country great. If we want to earn the respect and dignity of the blacks and African people, Nigerians must abandon rabid corruption and injustices, unfairness and begin to reconstruct Nigeria by removing all the negatives that make Africans to be ashamed in the world.
In the light of all these, what do you think is the reason for the sharp divisions along ethnic and religious lines in the country?
When you are going down problems arise in many ways. If we are growing the way we were growing between 1954 – 65, I mean we didn’t have sharp ethnic divisions. But this time the economic backwardness is leading to great divisions. Let me start with religion – there is no bases for religious divide in Nigeria. If you read the Qur’an well and read the Bible well you will find minor human errors which are being magnified in the system as if they were very important. No!! The God of the Christians is the God of the Muslims. The things you need to do in Christianity you need to do them in in Islam but there is only one significant difference which arose from a mistake.
So forget what they say that religion divides us. It pays some people to promote it. Ethnic divide: I am Igbo, God created me Igbo. I am Igbo on arrival. If you are Hausa, you are Hausa on arrival you didn’t chose to be. Why am I going to be disputing my Hausa-friend or my Yoruba-friend? There is no basis unless I am disputing with God who decided what each person will be. If we come together, if we lend each other shoulder we develop massively and happiness will dominate any division we have. So, yes there was this our problem in the past when Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo seemed to have different ideas but eventually, I think some of us who were alive then, should know that we have a responsibility to unite the Yoruba and the Igbo; let it form the bases of correcting the problems of Nigeria.
January marks it 50 years after the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War. Do you think that Nigerians have learnt anything from the war?
Well, we lost everything from the coup and from the war. It was the coup that resulted into war which led to the change in the structure that worked. The structure that worked is regional government with a federating units – I mean regional government as federating unit. That structure was there then, the coup came and the war followed the coup and it was in the interest of Nigeria to find ways of winning the war and that led to the creation of 12 states to isolate Igbo in the East so that it will be easier to win the war. Now from 12 states to 36 states, it got to unitary government, we got to having exclusive list. When after the war we tried to reunite, Aburi Agreement was the best and whether we like it or we don’t like it, if we want Nigeria to continue it is going to be of something very similar to Aburi Agreement.
The then Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon, instituted policy of three Rs – Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation as part of the measures to heal the wounds inflicted by the civil war. But the Igbo still feel they are marginalised in Nigeria. Does it mean there has been no full integration?
Gowon is a Godly man with very good conscience. He wanted everything to work perfectly. He declared no victor no vanquish and three Rs but Gowon alone could not implement everything. There was a bias in the implementation and it is worse now than after the war. I mean the marginalisation; humiliation of the Igbo is now by far worse than those days after the war. I don’t want to repeat what I have said in various papers but the Pull-Igbo-Down-Syndrome has been so high in the present government. Our people dominate the list of people to be sacked from the army. Our people are absent in the list of appointments. Yes, what the President says is very good, excellent but what he is doing is different from what he says and that where the problem is.
You were said to have fought on the side of the Biafra during the civil war. Looking back now do you think you fought for a right cause?
During that period, I was not very relevant in the scheme of things. I did not contribute much to the decisions and when the war was going on, all I did was begging for alms, begging in the streets of America for money to support the downtrodden – those who were suffering. My wife even fainted and when I got to where she fainted, I fainted too because things were bad. Then in Uganda I tried to make peace; trying to explain things to our people. So, mine was not a decision-making role during the war.
Are you satisfied with the anti-corruption war of this regime considering that some former governors have been convicted for corruption?
Selective justice is injustice. The war against corruption is characterised by selective justice. But the war against corruption is necessary and must be fought for Nigeria to claim its place in the comity of nations. I don’t think we have fought a great war against corruption. There is more corruption now than when we said we started to fight against it. It is even corruption to be selective in the fight against corruption.
Well, you are asking me all kinds of questions just know that things are not right now as there are people who are looking at what you are saying and they are not looking at the quality of what you are saying. During the Abacha government, my name was put among those to be eliminated and somehow, one big man Justice Mama Nasir called to meet me and we met in Lagos. After meeting Justice Nasir, four hours of talking he told me, ‘my son, Dr Ezeife from now on go ahead and say what you like to say. Say what your conscience tells you; a country must have people of conscience not every person will succumb to injustice for fear. I am going to tell Abacha that the security people should look away from you.’ I became, according to security people, untouchable but it is not easy for people to recognise that a person telling the truth even when the truth is against them is doing anything good.
How would you describe the proscription of IPOB and alleged extrajudicial killings of its members by security agents for agitating for the restoration of the Independent State of Biafra?
The Igbo youths are not helping Nigeria at all, they are only reacting to the injustice against their people. While it seems like there is a division between the youth and elders of Igboland is that the elders don’t want to be in a hurry, they want Nigeria as one but the complaints of the youth affect them. They see the injustice, the humiliation – the cheating, the inequality, the elders see them also but they said ‘oh, let’s give it some time maybe God will change the minds of the kings and create a more favourable situation. The youths may also have a wrong calculation on some of the issues but one thing is clear; when they say stay at home people stay at home.
How do you describe the Supreme Court judgement that sacked Emeka Ihedioha and declared Senator Hope Uzodinma as the new governor of Imo State?
It came to me as a very big shock. I am a friend of Uzodinma and I am a friend of Ihedioha but I am a friend of justice, equity and fairness and the Supreme Court is not just, not fair and did not apply equity in their judgement. There is no way you can justify the action. But it was a plan made by some people and they even got a prophet to prepare the minds of people about it. One particular prophet was announcing something that nobody believed until, it was a matter of those who planned those thing getting him to prepare the minds of the people. So it hurts so much. I saw Ihedioha about three weeks ago in Imo when he hosted Chief Mbazulike Amaechi to a 90-year birthday party. I know I hosted Nwafor Orizu for his 76-year birthday party but, Orizu is from Anambra; this one a governor of Imo state hosted an Anambra elder to a 90-year birthday party indicating the greater understanding among the South-East. For this one to come just after that event makes it even worse but the point I am making as far as I know is there is no way the decision of the Supreme Court can be justified. God in heaven knows that.