Chief John Nwodo, a former Minister of Information, is the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. In this interview on Channels Television, monitored by TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, he speaks on the state of the nation and other issues
Former Senate Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu was recently attacked in Germany by those identified as members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and that generated lots of issues. As Igbo leader, don’t you see the incident as spill out of the dynamics of what is going on currently within the group?
I don’t think so in regard to the last part of your question. The act in itself is condemnable; it is unIgbo; t is uncivilized and the early those tendencies are stopped, the better for all of us. In Igbo culture, it is sacrilege and unheard of for a young man to attack someone old enough to be his father. Secondly, for somebody in a leadership position like Senator Ekweremadu, there is some honour and respectability that goes with it. To attack him in a foreign country; attempt to tear his cloths; that itself, is assault. In any interpretation of criminal law, it is wrong. It is justiceable, you can take somebody to court for it. Can you imagine a father taking his son to court for criminal offence of assault? This is only an indication that there is no dialogue between father and son any more.
I was intended to be in Germany with Ekweremadu, but my visa came two days after the attack. I persuaded Ekweremadu to go because all the disparate Igbo organisations in Germany were coming together in an Igbo Day and they wanted to use the opportunity to dramatise some of the Igbo culture. But the essence was to reconcile them to become one. And I said to Ekweremadu that ‘if I can’t go, you too can help me to reconcile them.’ Everybody wanted to be president of an Igbo organisation and in the end there were eight Igbo organisations, none of which were ready to bow for one another. Ekweremadu was going there not as a guest speaker, but as a father to unite them. He never expected the attack, so he didn’t take any retinue of personal security because he was going to meet his brethren and this happened to him. Supposing he had some personal security, there would have been a fracas of inestimable proportion.
But what does this portray of us to the outside world. First, we are a people, who do not respect our culture. For IPOB as an organisation of young men, who are saying we cannot exist in a federation where we have injustice in terms of the kind of indiscrimination and marginalisation that our people are facing and we want a country of our own; reenacting what we did at their age when we fought for Biafra, they were proscribed and declared as a terrorist organization, but we said this is a wrong decision and we defended them in every international fora.
For them to turn an international forum into a display of terrorism; it completely nullifies our defence and makes us look like as if we don’t really know our children. But those who did that in Germany are a minority of IPOB members. It cannot be said that all members of IPOB are terrorist because they did that. However, the encouragement to them by the rest of IPOB leadership gives a vicarious liability for such a senseless act. It is much regrettable.
One of the things that have become a problem is what to do with herdsmen, who traditionally have travail the country and have done so without conflict up until recently. In trying to address this problem, which prominently in the Middle Belt has actually become more than a security challenge and it has spread to other parts of the country. But it is assumed that it has also a taken North and South divide…
To be honest with you, I put the blame squarely on the President of Nigeria and the people of Nigeria.
Why do you say so?
The President of Nigeria has allowed a crisis to slow down on something he has every authority to address because of his biases. Secondly, the people of Nigeria have embraced democracy without embracing the culture of democracy. We don’t speak to government, we don’t hold the government accountable and so anybody who is in government is like a superior Nigerian. If it is a local government chairman, he can do whatever he likes. He doesn’t need to account to you how he spends the local government’s money. If he is a governor, he can do what he likes. If he is a president, it is a higher form of what you like.
When I was child, herdsmen were in my part of the country. They never carried weapons; they carried sticks. They never invaded people’s farms; they went to graze in fields. In fact, the Eastern Nigeria Government established a cattle ranch in Obudu, where we grew our local cows. There was no conflict of this nature. As I grew up in Enugu, I saw a lot of Hausa and Fulani, who lived in Enugu Municipal. The election for Mayor of Enugu was between a Fulani man from Kastina and an Igbo man and Zik (Nnamdi Azikiwe) campaigned for the Fulani man and he won the election in Enugu just like I did in Ibadan.
But what we now have is jihad. People come from all kind of places and they invade our country. Our boarders are porous. If you have ever been to any of the boarder lines in Kastina and Sokoto, you find out that you don’t need a passport to enter Nigeria. How can a law say the state government is in custody of land and the state Assembly in our constitution in Benue State makes a law saying you can’t establish this kind of thing you want except it is regulated in a ranch and some people say no to that?
How can the governor of Ebonyi State say you can’t move cattle in his state except by vehicular movement; you don’t do it by land because you ravage our farms and a Miyetti Allah chiefd tells him that he can’t do and nobody arrests him? He is free to do so, but if IPOB says this is not a fair country, you arrest all of them and declare them a terrorist organisation. Something is wrong; fundamentally wrong. This is political and if it is not handled well, it has the incendiary capacity to destroy the foundations of our democracy and our federation, and God forbid that it should happen.
Giving the background you have given and the position you have taken, was it therefore a political miscalculation in 2015 and 2019 for the South-East not to go in the direction of those who eventually won?
There is something that is fundamentally wrong in our politics. In politics, freedom of choice of who you support in an election is a function of how much his manifesto represents your popular views and it has nothing to do with your reception of the benefits of governance. The constitution requires every public functionary to exercise authority without fear or favour, discrimination, ill-will or affection. If it is found out that the President as he openly said in London, is acting out his words and giving government amenities according to how he was voted for, it is an impeachable offence; it is a dereliction of our constitution and his oath of office.
When I was in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) with Shehu Shagari, he lost in the East in his first election as president, but we had a meeting of the party and one
Idris, who was Deputy Speaker from Niger State got up and said that the Igbo have gotten more positions in government than they deserved because they didn’t vote for NPN. He said that out of 10 advisers of the president, six were Igbo, which was true.
But Chuba Okadigbo and I got up and we insisted that he should withdraw the statement because it was a fundamental derogation to our constitution and he did. Chief Adisa Akinloye as national chairman of the party also insisted that he must withdraw it and he did. The issue is that at the end of an election, whoever won has no opposition any more. And you know that by his policies, Shehu Shagari turned round and won the South-East given the way he embraced them even after they had voted against him.
This is politics; you must have my interest in your manifesto. If you don’t have it, I have no business with you. In the last election, which I can speak of, the preponderance of opinion in Igbo land was that we must have restructuring and we can only support anyone who is prepared to return Nigeria to what it was at independence. It was a non-negotiable platform and as President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, I risked my personal security for not dancing along the tune of the Igbo. That was their popular wish and it was my responsibility to voice it out.
This position was arrived at after several consultative meetings with our people and their voting proved this. I didn’t force each one to do so. They wanted their destiny in their own hands and you also saw that in the Middle Belt. The West was divided dramatically into two on this and I believe that the division was because of the fact that the West had the vice presidency of Nigeria and on the ticket of the ruling party, otherwise the broad spectrum of the Yoruba wanted restructuring.
The South-South was clearly for restructuring in their voting pattern. So, I have no regret that the Igbo went the way they did. It was a function of their political desire to have Nigeria restructured and to feel like equal citizens in their own country.
The 2019 elections have come and gone and people are now looking forward to the 2023 elections. The belief is that power should come to the South and South-East should be allowed to produce the president in 2023 since South-West and South-South have already produced president in the present Fourth Republic. What are your thoughts on that?
First of all, the presidency has been made too important by the amount of power the constitution has invested on the president and the Federal Government. That is why the presidency is an instrument for sectional aggrandizement, which in turn, explains so much battle for everyone to get it. It is like sharing a national cake rather than baking a national cake. The presidency should bake the national cake but it is an instrument for sharing the national cake. So, I don’t share the concept of those who talk about power sharing.
Why don’t you believe in it?
I don’t share it because what is important for me is that we should have restructuring of Nigeria revisited.
But it has been a long life dream of many generations of south easterners…
I am coming to that. You must understand the fundamental error in this feeling that every part of the country must get a share of the national cake because the presidency is an instrument for sharing of national cake rather than baking the national cake. When we had post-independence government, the premiers were more powerful than the Prime Minister. The leader of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) refused to come to Lagos to become Prime Minister because the power of wealth creation rested in the regions. So, this craze for presidency and zoning is a negation to building a virile economy and a united country.
Having said so, for me, the question of the president coming to the South-East and giving the people a sense of belonging that they are part of Nigeria is fine. But the issue is not a matter of zoning of the presidency; the issue is finding a right material for president. Often, there is no scrutiny of these candidates and the parties have developed some kind of sovereignty that is greater than the voters by limiting the option of candidates to who the godfathers in the party want. In the end, the country does not have the opportunity to choose the best person who can breed life into national economy.
When you talk about the best person, are you talking in terms of the best person nationally or the best person in the South-East?
Nationally! Don’t forget that if you zone the presidency to the South-East, the nomination would be done by the respective parties to choose who among their members from the South-East they would want to be president. The recruitment process is not objective; its subjectivity overweighs its objectivity. We don’t really get the best candidate for that position. Secondly, I think it would be wrong to say that when it is the turn of the South-East, the zone would be imbrued with so much internal division and they would be unable to agree.
As I have said to you, it is not the South-East that would bring somebody, it is the parties that will choose and the parties are made up of people from across the country. It is going to be president of Nigeria chosen by Nigerians. So, they would be chosen by members of the party from a particular area. It is not only the Igbo who are going to bring out the president. However, even if the Igbo have to have a choice in recommending who they want, I think the Igbo have the capacity to agree on sensitive issues.
What is the position of the South-East going into this calculation? Do you believe that natural justice will tend to present the zone with an opportunity to get the presidency in 2023?
To be honest with you, my training and upbringing does not allow me to dance to this tune of zoning in terms of choosing people and that kind of thing. What I want for the South-East if you ask for my personal opinion and what I think most people in South-East want, is that we should be allowed to develop our place at our own pace. Let us have a restructured Nigeria in which every area will develop at its own pace and the questions of who becomes the president would become less attractive.
I hate this idea of donating the presidency to a particular section just to assuage their feelings and rather than bake the cake, we share the cake. Naturally, every south easterner will like the president of Nigeria to come from the South-East, but the leadership recruitment process in Nigeria has to be rejigged. The parties have become anointing stations with no democratic credentials for making the best of decisions. So, they might not present bright minds for the position.
Look at the former Deputy Governor of Central Bank, Prof. Kinsley Moghalu, who came out to run for presidency. He was easily the most educated of the presidential candidates. His experience in micro-economics management was unassailable, but it was impossible given the influence of leading political parties in our country for him to make a major showing. People were voting for their parties rather than voting for individuals. So, we have to go through a rejig of our entire political process.
Even though it will be in the benefit of the South-East to have the next president come from there and it will assuage their feelings on marginalization, a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction, with a jaundiced constitution, will still remain ineffective and unsatisfactory to the people of the South-East.
In clear terms, what exactly is this restructuring?
It is very simple. It is devolution of powers. There is no reason on earth why you should have primary education administered by the Federal Government. There is no reason why you should have mineral resources in every part of Nigeria, whether it is gold in Zamfara or tin in Plateau, administered by the Federal Government without recourse to the state governments that are there. The states should have complete control of all natural resources.
We had a revenue formula by which a percentage was given to the Federal Government. We recognised it under the military regime in the Land Use Act in which states government were made owners of the land. How can you be owner of a land and you are not the owner of mineral resources in the land? It doesn’t make sense to me. So, the whole essence of restructuring is, go back to your places and have sovereignty over your mineral resources, have sovereignty over your domestic security.
All federal laws would be enforced by federal police and all local laws would be enforced by state or regional police. It is as simple as that. This will unleash tremendous energy in areas that have been neglected in our country such as agriculture, education, health and social services, which are the basis for development. Do you realise that the rate of growth of Nigeria under a restructured Nigeria after independence was faster than the rate of growth now. The tendency all over the world is micro-management. When the management is too far from the people, it makes it impossible for them to be efficient. So, we need to go back.