Chukwuemeka Ezeife came into national reckoning in 1992, when he became Governor of Anambra State on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of the two political creations contrived by the military government of the day. The other arm of the two contraptions was the National Republican Convention (NRC). One tilted to the left, and the other, a little to the right, thanks to the inventive administration of military President Ibrahim Babangida.
That was the Third Republic (1992-1993) – a very short but unforgettable era that marked a watershed in Nigeria’s history and altered its political trajectory. It was the period that began the chain of events which snowballed into June 12; when the botched attempt to restore democracy transformed an ordinary date on the calendar, into a monumental historic landmark.
Ezeife was among the top political players of that period whose dream of a full term in office as Governor was dashed only after one year. With his trademark goatee, snow-white dress and blood-red cap, he cuts the image of a traditionalist steeped in the cultures of his native Igbo-Ukwu, where he wears the title of Okwadike. While the description cannot be dismissed as lacking in merits, a closer interaction reveals an erudite scholar and dogged fighter whose activism is influenced more by his environment and cries of the underdogs, than the academic laurels and Ph.D he earned in Economics from Harvard University.
Earlier in life, Ezeife had taught at the Makarere University College, Uganda and in Harvard, his Alma mater. He rose to become a Permanent Secretary in the civil service of the federation before he disengaged and began to take more than a cursory glance at politics.
At 79, Ezeife is still vibrant, holds strongly to his views and participates actively in national discourse. Beneath the veneer of an uncompromising champion of his Igbo people, who he laments are “living without honour in their own country”, is a charismatic statesman passionately in love with Nigeria and hopeful of its survival, if only the clarion call of the people is paid an urgent heed.
In this interview with TheEconomy’s Chinedu Obike, Ezeife bares his mind on the precarious state of the nation and recommends restructuring as a potent antidote to the impending implosion of the “giant of Africa.” Excerpts:
You became the first civilian Governor of Anambra State during an experimental era, when a military President was in charge.
It was a transitional system, but the military struck again.
With the benefit of hindsight, would you say that governance in Nigeria has shown appreciable improvement?
I do not think there has been an improvement. It has been one of steady decline. In fact, it can be said that Nigeria has been taking giant steps backward. Then, there is some elevation of spirit and after that, everything collapses again. We have had brief spells of good governance never lasting more than two years. Nigeria has failed as a country and it is a monumental, colossal, comprehensive failure. I thought we were supposed to provide a model for African countries. Indeed, I have always thought that God created Nigeria with the purpose of being a rallying point, like a big brother, to all African countries. God blessed us with enormous resources as if to enable us to develop into a super power and by so doing, raise the dignity, prestige and respect of all blacks on earth. I think God’s final purpose was to wipe away the shame of slavery on the faces of all blacks.
If Nigeria develops and becomes a super power, then the black man will become proud, but instead of wiping shame off the faces of blacks, we are heaping more shame on them. We are a disappointment to ourselves and others.
Your expectations are in consonance with the dreams of the founding fathers who had hoped for a Nigeria that will provide leadership not only for Africa, but also for the black community, globally. Where did it go wrong?
I can tell you where I think it went wrong. The purpose of the 1914 amalgamation was to use the surplus of the south to plug the deficits of the north. We kept going until we got to a stage where some people in the south thought we should be independent of the British. But that did not happen initially because the north said no. We waited another three years before we became independent. Until 1966, Nigeria was developing at a remarkable rate: the east was on top doing very well, followed by the west. Then things changed. There was a military coup in January 1966 and since then, it has been a downhill journey; from the federal system based on regions to federating units. The real collapse was signalled by the impending Nigeria-Biafra war. There was pogrom in the north and the Igbo people said they didn’t want any more, that kind of Nigeria; that they wanted to build a world of their own and so, they went home. At the point of their counter coup, the northern people said was “Araba” (Hausa: to separate); that the basis for unity was non-existent and they went home. But when their sponsor, the British, told them, “What are you doing? You are committing suicide. Go back”; they came back and, with the help of Britain, Russia and Egypt forced Biafran people back into the fold.
In Igbo language, you will find the guiding principles of the Igbo man: “ebe onye bi k’ona awachi”, meaning, where a person lives, there he mends. If you go round Nigeria, you will see modern houses belonging to Igbo men; they invest wherever they find themselves without looking back; sometimes not even investing at home, which was why, when I was being sworn in as Governor, I gave an inaugural address titled, “THINK HOME”. But that is not the issue; we want to trace how Nigeria started going backward.
Well, the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967 was called a police action by the military, which expected it to end in three months. The area that declared Biafra was the whole of the east but as a military strategy, the Nigerian military created 12 states to isolate the Igbo from the rest of the east.
So, let us call what we were doing before 1966/1967 as “Agreed Nigeria”; Nigeria as agreed by our founding fathers was a federal system. With the military and the war, it became totally unitary and dictatorial; with such powers, the rulers of Nigeria who came from the north created the structure that existed then. That structure now comprises 36 states, plus Abuja with 19 in the north and 17 in the south. Abuja also is in the north. That structure also contains 774 local government areas with 413 in the north and 331 in the south. You can see how things changed. If you put Jigawa and Kano states together, you have almost as many local government areas as in the whole of the south east. Kano has 44 local government areas, Lagos 20, Bayelsa eight and do you know what? Federal revenue is shared down to the local government level.
So, the 19 states in the north plus the 413 local government areas share the revenue. The north also dominates decision-making by virtue of its domination of the membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Well, I think it was at that point that we lost it.
There were no improvements because the system did not instil patriotic fire in the people. In fact, the military did serious damage to Nigeria. Because they wanted free hands, they worked on the minds of the people to believe that Nigeria, as a country, was not worth dying for. The military did that?
Yes. They did so to divert the attention of the people from their activities. They introduced religion, tribalism and other bases of divide in the country and made them more important than the nation. As a result, patriotism waned. So, you no longer see the fire of patriotism in Nigerians. Now, it is all about Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa; not Nigeria. These days, if you see people protesting, somebody has paid them to do it. In the past, people protested because they were genuinely aggrieved, but today, you buy votes and people who will riot for you. So, the country started going down. In the past, taxes and monies from the federating units were spent by the federating units; they only contributed money to run the centre. So, monies in the states belonged to the people and the populace were interested in how the money was spent; what the governor was doing with the money; whoever was in charge, what was he doing with the money? So, women and men as well as intellectuals in the states were actively involved; they policed the money, but when it became a matter of coming to Abuja to collect money and go home, it became no man’s money. People in the local governments are no longer interested in the activities of the local government authorities. And what do the chairmen do? They collect allocations and name a date when some people will come and take their share, and then go. Governors do the same. Since we no longer have the fighting spirit against corruption, it became monumental and ate into the fabrics of our society. So, our country collapsed woefully and started heaping shame on blacks, instead of pride.
Look at the amount of money individuals who find themselves in power accumulate; some in billions and some, you cannot count, especially, by the men. As a rule, on the average, women are less corrupt than men, though you can see a woman or two doing the wrong things. So, with morals down and corruption up, voting becomes meaningless because sometimes, people are bribed to vote. So, the system has collapsed and we can see why. What we now have is a country that cannot be mended. What the good people of Nigeria can do is to persist in their desire to remake the country and I am hopeful that God will help us to do it. But then, it is important to know where our problems originated.
How can we trace these problems?
Our problems came originally from the fact that the eastern people are shrewd and are goal-getters; they are resourceful. The western people have the same or almost the same qualities. Thanks to these traits, the colonialists feared that one day, the people from the east will outstrip them and become competitors in world affairs. So, what they did, which is clear now, was to look for any group of people who can keep Nigeria down. They started by manipulating the population figures and from there to other things; they looked for a group to dominate Nigeria and that dominance has come to a head at this point in time. That dominance has formed a base and superiority psychosis has gone haywire. I do not know what the British and others can do about it now.
Nigeria is blessed on all sides. Look at the climate of the country; you can be naked in most parts of Nigeria, day in, day out and not die. Try that in London during the winter season if you will last six hours. In terms of resources, who can think of any country that is more endowed than Nigeria? Of material things, we have it in abundance; many which we do not even know yet. Any animal that can be bred anywhere in the world can also be reared in Nigeria; if it cannot be bred in Igbo-Ukwu, it can in Mambilla. For mineral resources, we have them in abundance. With regards to human resources, there are surplus talents from many tribes.
God designed Nigeria for unmatched greatness but man has been doing overtime trying to mess up His plans. Of course, we know that God does not make mistakes and His will must prevail. Therefore, with restructuring and allowing justice to prevail in Nigeria, the devil will lose.
General Alani Akinrinade and others have called for a return to the Independence Constitution that allowed the regions to work the way you have described. Do you subscribe to that call?
About two months ago, I wrote a paper titled, “RESTRUCTURING NIGERIA”, and what I suggested is to go back to that “Agreed Nigeria”, as in the Independence constitutions of the regions and the federal government, then fuse it with recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, and rebuild Nigeria.
I led this call of going back to “Agreed Nigeria” and you simply cannot avoid it and expect things to work. Let me show you the slight difference. The conference recommended 18 new states bringing to 54 the total number of states in Nigeria; plus Abuja. The question is, can we have 54 federating units, including Abuja? Is there any way to engineer such a creation such that it works? You can’t have 54 federating units in Nigeria and make them to work; nor is it feasible to have 54 states seeking cooperation among themselves, on their own volition. I don’t think it can work. Therefore, it makes sense to even go back to the regional or zonal government, or call it anything you like. We have used the zones for many decades; we can transform the current six geopolitical zones into federating units, but this is where the greatest care is needed. What then do we do? Some people don’t like the idea of returning to the regional arrangement because to them, it means going back to Egypt. But, what do we do?
Let the states in every zone, new and old, negotiate their own new constitutions based on the Independence Regional Government constitutions. They will craft it in such a way as to minimize tension and then submit it to a body to be constituted by the government. All the ingredients are there in the Independence Constitution; the 2014 National Conference recommendations and so on. They can now put it all together and give us a restructured Nigeria. That is the difference.
In other words, you are of the opinion that the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference should be implemented?
Yes, but with some amendments. The federating units should be the zones. With the current knowledge that the federating units should be in charge of their internal security while the federal government is left with external security, this tiny change makes a lot of difference.
I want to emphasise that no part of Nigeria stands to gain ultimately from the disintegration of Nigeria; no part. Strangely, it is the federal government that is leading to the disintegration of Nigeria. When Obasanjo came to power, there was no serious agitation for secession; same with Yar’adua and Jonathan. Then Buhari came and made more than 40 appointments without one from the south-east; that was the first shot. Some people who were tipped to hold key offices lost the chance. Then, he appointed his ministers. Even though the constitution says every state should have a minister, look at how he did it; three ministries put in one.
Buhari was not even alarmed by a situation where he will call a National Security Advisory Committee or a National Security Council meeting and there is no South-Easterner there. The body language was, “kill them wherever you see them; kill the south-easterners wherever you see them”. And they killed in Aba without reasons. In Onitsha, they killed people who were carrying the Bible and groups going for a memorial service. Again, they killed in Asaba. In Port Harcourt, they killed, too, because some young men were rejoicing when Donald Trump won the elections in America.
Could that be the reason for the current call for secession?
Well, I have always insisted that Buhari is pushing the south-east out of Nigeria and using petrol to burn MASSOB and IPOB. In Nigeria, we don’t love our neighbours. Otherwise, others should have been worried that out of 40 appointments, there was no south-easterner; none even in the National Security Council. It is sad that in a six-geopolitical zones arrangement, even the least of the appointments did not go to the south-east. So, this is where patriotism failed because nobody is thinking about his neighbour.
You are a member of the National Christian Elders’ Forum (NCEF), which recently painted a very gloomy picture of Nigeria. How real are the fears you expressed?
I can assure you that the statement credited to the group is genuine. Islamization is not a theory; it is ongoing and it is being implemented seriously. People are being posted all over the south; arms are allegedly being dumped there, and some people are being killed without prosecution. The herdsmen are advancing Islam and they are killing people in every other part of Nigeria, except the North-West. The South and the Middle Belt, particularly, are suffering the more. Helicopters bring supplies to the herdsmen and they carry A.K 47 in the open, which is against the law. They kill and nobody is asking questions. Recently, something happened in Ile Ife and the usual people caused it, but the other people were arrested because they reacted the way normal people should. God loves Nigeria and with great hope, one Nigeria will eventually prevail.
Most of you in NCEF are men of substance who occupied positions of responsibility at one time or the other in this country. Is it that you did not see it coming or that the will to nip it in the bud was not there?
Hope is the culprit. We just kept hoping that gradually, things would change; that it would not go so far, but steadily, you are enveloped by it. It has been long since I started crying out. In fact, the issues we are raising now, I did call attention to them over a decade ago. Indeed, some individuals also saw it. But, how do you nip it in the bud? You need to organise yourself.
Christians expect God to come down and use AK47 to fight their battle for them. They always say, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal”. That is what we are always doing and that was how Constantinople became Istanbul; from 100% Christian to 96% Muslim. In Nigeria, if they were convincing people by preaching, nobody will complain; if Islamization depends on the weapon of evangelism, nobody will protest but this is a matter of “convert or die”, with gun on your chest. You are made to go through hell. Can you imagine what the people in the Middle Belt have been experiencing? So, don’t blame some of them who have yielded because if you are in their position, you may not respond differently. Even in Igboland, some are yielding because they are shown some money.
Those of you in the press, what did you do? You saw it, too. Did you raise an alarm or publish that Christians should unite and fight? That is the problem, but we are still praying that God will turn His face to Nigeria. All this confusion: quit notice and all of that, are simply ingredients of their progress. Nigeria may cease to exist. With the actions and reactions, the need to normalize Nigeria, which is to restructure her, has been forced into the public domain and anybody who says he does not see it hates Nigeria.
Talking about restructuring, are you bothered that the northern part of the country does not appear to be as enthusiastic about it as those in the south?
It is not true. The northern part of the country loses most should Nigeria disintegrate. What is the illiteracy level there? Is education not a major ingredient for development? Therefore, the people who should be begging for the country to remain one are the Fulanis. In fact, they should be on their kneels begging for Nigeria to remain one. On the contrary, with superiority psychosis, they are the ones claiming to be the boss of every one. So, I think God has turned his face to us and we must now be resolute and act.
There may be no election in 2019 if this restructuring is not completed long before the exercise. My shock is that some people delibrately refuse to see it. I gave a time table that by mid-2018, restructuring should have been completed and if it is done, we have hope of survival. Otherwise, Nigeria, as you know it, may cease to exist.
How can this restructuring be achieved when there is no consensus?
There is consensus. First, you think about yourself and if you love your neighbour, you think about your neighbour, as well. Why are some people in the north, some Fulanis, opposing restructuring? Obviously, they have the present advantage; short-term advantage and this is what is breaking up Nigeria: surplus local government advantage; majority states advantage; Senate advantage; and House of Representatives advantage. In fact, the current arrangement in the country is unsustainable; it is unsustainably in favour of the Fulani. It is unsustainable because it was their sons as presidents or military Heads of State who created and dumped on them all those advantages that cannot be sustained in any free society.
The Biafran people are now talking, but they may not be the first to leave. It will look like magic. We are fooling ourselves behaving as if it does not matter; as if we have survived everything. One group goes, and all others will follow those who have gone, or go independently. Many people have called me from the Middle Belt to say: “Okwadike, if your people are leaving, think about us. We are not going to remain here”. Some say, “We will join you”. But, I tell them that there will be no need to leave Nigeria. Population size is important and so are material and human resources; all resources are important and we have them in abundance in Nigeria. Therefore, no group looking at their long-term interest would agree to the disintegration of Nigeria.
I am Igbo, but anybody who calls me a tribalist is not intelligent. I told you what happened when Buhari came to power; he ignored the constitution and started making lopsided appointments. If you call me a tribalist because I am pointing out the defects, the things that can destroy the country, then you are foolish.
Let us look at the glorious future for each group in Nigeria, large or small, in a Super Power Nigeria and not think about breaking up into smaller countries where you keep fighting your brothers and abandon the markets. You don’t need to be an economist to know that a large market is important. In the comity of nations, size counts. Development is important, but size matters and that is why America, Russia, India, and China are what they are. Nigeria is developing backwards. Everybody must look at today and tomorrow. Anybody who tells himself the truth will agree with restructuring.
The argument is that restructuring may lead to more problems, such that the call will not cease even when you have gone into regions or federating units.
Yes, but that is human society and it is called plurality. We have been there before and the net advantage was the progress we achieved. If we have Biafra, we may even want to have an embassy in the Vatican, whereas the Fulani may want to have one in Saudi Arabia and we will not fight each other. One reason the zones cannot be wished away is because of what we call economics of scale. With each zone as they are today, they can generate enough power for themselves and no longer depend on the federal government. In fact, no state, apart from Lagos, can boast of independent power supply. So, I think that short-term thinking is dangerous and it is called myopic reasoning. Anybody who says he or she has a question mark or doubts about restructuring is not sincere. Sincere political thinkers know that the advantages the colonial and military leaders conferred on the north are unsustainable and if you want to sustain the unsustainable, the country breaks, and if the country disintegrates, the Fulani and their friends will suffer most.
There is no monopoly of violence in Nigeria and anywhere. Nigerians can say, ‘to your tents oh Israel; if you know where you came from, go’. It is possible. Love your neighbour as yourself, even if your neighbour does not understand he is making a mistake. If you are sure that what you are doing is in his interest, continue doing so and eventually, he will discover his own error and the love you have for him.
This government came in with a solid agenda: to fix the economy, fight corruption and ensure security. How well has it done in these areas?
Why are you asking a question that has an obvious answer? Everybody knows the government is a comprehensive failure. I spoke to some newspapers but they reported that I described the APC as All Promises Cancelled. I might have said it, but that was not the main issue. What did they say they will do during the campaigns that they have done? Nothing; and whatever they may have done is very bad for the economy. In fact, they started destroying the economy with their mouth. It came from the mouth of a leader of the country.
Could it not be because they discovered that huge sums of money had been embezzled?
More money has been embezzled since they came, but that leads me to a positive point. I like this whistle blowing idea. I like President Buhari’s concern about corruption and he is fighting it. But then, you know that selective justice is injustice. If he had been fighting corruption blindly, it would have been good. They go after their political opponents. Even those who voted for the Buhari government regret doing so. The APC as a party has been a total failure and some southerners in the APC should have their heads examined. The APC started as a Muslim brotherhood and so are not concerned about Islamization. If you are from Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Delta and many other non-Muslim areas, why should you just keep quiet and say your party is making progress? Some people are even rushing to the APC because they control government and they are rigging without looking back; they go to the court, dump money and say, declare this person as legitimately elected.
Even so, I believe we have a country called Nigeria and it is blessed of God. We should not abandon the country; we should remake and declare it a zero corruption society. We should reform the churches and the mosques and every other thing that needs to be reformed. Don’t deal with any political parties existing now. We need new political parties. It is possible for corrupt politicians to transform and become good; it is possible for man to do so but there should be oath-taking. I want new people in politics to accept to take an oath before joining political parties. The oath is: “If my personal interest clashes with the interest of the people, I will yield to the interest of the people”. Self-service must end; service to the people must be the reason for going into the politics. As I said earlier, women on the average are less corrupt than men and the milk of human kindness flows better in women than men. Therefore, we must find ways of increasing the number of women in governance, either by election or appointment so that we can have a new Nigeria. We can form amalgamations of all kinds of parties and see how the message will begin to sink in and I need the support of those of you in the press.
Do you belong to any political party?
No, but some people have put my name down somewhere in one party and I don’t want to talk about it.
There is a call for amnesty for treasury looters. How do you react to it?
I proposed sometime ago on how to deal with corrupt people. My suggestion was first, to identify the looters; then give him or her an appointment date to appear. Subsequently, we agree on what percentage we can leave for the looters to survive on when he or she voluntarily returns the rest of the loots. And we will also assure that he or she will not be prosecuted after returning all the loots. So, that was what I proposed a long time ago, but it was not implemented. Nobody saw merit in it. If people tell you how much is being stolen, you will be surprised. It can be negotiated. You can accept to give them 5 or 10% to survive on and you will be surprised at the huge sums you will recover. One person may have $90 million stashed away somewhere, such that even if his generation lives up to 200 years, they will not finish spending the money. Some will even forget where they buried it. Some bury money under the foundation of their homes and tell no one; not even their wives. When they pass on, the money is lost.
For instance, during an overseas trip sometime ago, I stopped over in Switzerland and opened an account with $200. Now, I can’t recollect where that account is; it’s lost. Some people will lose the money they stole which is dumped in foreign banks, while others will lose the ones they buried. People steal without compunction; they steal money not even knowing what to do with it.
You can see there are no walls around my house; no gate and no police to screen you as you come in. This is not typical and there is nothing that gives greater joy than helping other people. If you are in government and many people are happy, you will be happier than they are, but since we are not developed, we think myopically.
How will you describe the government’s attitude to security, fight against insurgency, kidnapping and other crimes?
The first order in life is self-preservation; that is, security. I will tell you a story. When the Governor of Anambra State was elected, he called the elders of the state to tell us what he planned to do. He made security the number one priority. I was the first to speak. I told him that the Bible asks us to “seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will be added”. So, in politics, society or the economy, ‘seek ye first security and people who feel secure will come and help you to secure the state’. Now, I must say, beyond any reasonable doubt, Anambra is secure. The Governor of Anambra State has achieved security but, of course, man, true to his nature, forgets the pains when the wound heals. I recollect one of the elders assuring the Governor that if he achieves the security target he promised, he will surely come back a second time. Now, the Governor wants to go back, but he is having problems because the wound has healed and the pains forgotten.
Boko Haram was once used as a political tool to remove Jonathan from power. Things like that develop their dynamics. Boko Haram has outlived the intentions of those who used it and it is now a major branch of ISIS. What is ISIS? This is a group of radical Islamists whose beliefs are not in consonance with the teachings of the Quran. They want the whole world to be under one government, that is the caliphate and they are going about it, strongly, but Donald Trump, the American President, may turn out to be the saviour of the world. He is resolute because he understands what is happening.
America reacted against terrorism, but here, we are encouraging it. Let me declare, as one of the Christian elders, that we do not oppose anybody who wants to convince anybody to join his faith, as long as it is done by persuasion, according to the Quran, which says no compulsion in the faith.
You described Boko Haram as a political tool. What do you mean by that?
I told you what I meant. It was a means to remove Jonathan so that the north can get power.
It became the Islamization tool which is consistent with the policy of President Buhari.
But do you believe this government is fighting it to a standstill?
Now, there is no reason for this government not to fight Boko Haram unless they have seen it as a good tool for Islamization. If they don’t see it that way, then there should not be any reason to hear about Boko Haram anymore.
In your opinion, as a Harvard-trained Economist, why do you think the Nigerian economy is regressing rather than developing?
We chose regression rather than development. When you are at the helm, you watch what you say. In fact, as a man thinketh in his heart so is he. Your leader is saying that you are bankrupt when you were not bankrupt; then you became bankrupt. Who is to blame? It is clear that the attitude of the government has been wrong from the start. Yes, I am Harvard-trained and I make proposals that can save Nigeria, but because of corruption, nothing is done. The petroleum sector should have been the saving grace of this nation; just by using it to effectively develop Nigeria. I told governments that the best thing to do is to take note of the fact that we are a high-cost underdeveloped economy. We need to use petroleum products to reduce the cost of production in Nigeria; we need to determine the quantity of crude we require for domestic consumption and the amount our neighbouring countries need. We should use it and sell at the price we choose, and not to import and leave it to market forces.
The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is there, remember?
The OPEC does not have anything to do with it. You can produce and allocate some quantities of crude for internal consumption, then process and determine what price you want to sell it, in order to bring down the cost of doing business in your country and improve your competitive advantage in the international system. That is the real economics of survival. I told them, but no one, whether Obasanjo, Jonathan or others have ever implemented it. The World Bank comes here with all manner of recommendations, and sometimes, I disagree with them; I prove my point convincingly.
Cost of governance is very high. How can Governors be made accountable?
The problem is bigger than you have stated it. The cost of governance in Nigeria is too high and we should seriously do something about it. Today, Nigeria has the most corrupt and richest civil servants anywhere in the world. The ownership of the various mansions in Abuja is an apt exhibit. Furthermore, how much does it cost to maintain a senator or House of Representatives member? That is where the cost goes. We need to adopt a parliamentary system of government with legislation as part-time job.
Are you calling for a return to Parliamentary System?
Why did we ever abandon it? Some of those in the House can become ministers and save us the problem of looking elsewhere. We need to return to the parliamentary system because it is the best for us and it is cheaper, too. So, if we are looking at the economics of governance, we need to look at the structure of governance. Since we are talking about restructuring, this is the time to do it.
What does Biafra mean? Is it a metaphor for rejection and abandonment, or does it mean secession?
Marginalisation, lack of respect, injustice, and inequity can make some people to resent where they are. The Igbo have many sayings on which guide their actions. They say, “eji ndu eme gini”, meaning, “life without honour is not worth living”. They also say, anyone who is rejected does not reject himself — “onye ajuru anaghi aju onwe ya”. If you recollect, those who are now called Biafrans, the Igbos, committed the greatest number of suicides during slavery because of their belief that the life of a slave is without honour. They jumped from the boats into the ocean because they were forced to live without honour. The kind of life Igbo people are living in Nigeria today under Buhari is without honour. If this kind of life continues beyond Buhari, Biafra as a territorial country becomes inevitable. Even today, some people are seeing Biafra movement as secession group. If things continue as they are, they will secede. That is why we are talking about restructuring. If we restructure, the Fulani will control their area; the Igbo and the Yoruba will do the same of their areas. Other groups will manage to understand each other and control their areas, as well. Then the country becomes for all of us and we will empower the federal government to run external affairs, currency, some major trunk roads and some other things that are unarguably, federal responsibilities.
So, Biafra to me today is a concept representing the reaction of the marginalized; the ones denied equity and justice but who are determined to insist that they cannot continue to be denied those things or killed like rats anywhere they are. Biafrans are the defenceless ones who are mowed down with machine guns because of their insistence that they be allowed to live with honour. All Nigerians should rise to condemn the ill treatment of the Igbos in their own country.
What do the Igbos want?
Igbos want Nigeria where justice reigns; a restructured country where people grow at their own pace.
Now that the quit notice given to them by a coalition of Northern youths has been withdrawn, what is your advice to Igbos resident in the north?
Consistent with my statements about preference for One Nigeria and the need to love your neighbour as yourself, the Igbos who are considering whatever move to make should think about their host communities. Are they all saying leave or is it the elite or the youths? Igbo people should remain where they are and try to understand their host communities.
Why are the Igbos apparently hated wherever they are? I will tell you. The Igbo man will come virtually empty handed to a strange place and thrive. In the ancient of days, he will even do menial jobs and gradually, acquire a table on which he will sell articles. Progressively, he will get a shop.
Ultimately, he builds a mansion better than the ones owned by the average members of the community. But is that enough to hate him? No.
He then sits in front of his new mansion, oozing more confidence than the original owners of the land. If you are one of those original owners of the place, how will you feel? If that Igbo man is Anambra, which I am, he will begin to show off his achievements and talk to the indigenes in a derogatory manner. That is the Anambra man of old, but we are now learning and I think it is time for our people to begin to make friends with their host communities. To those who saw us as arrogant, too boastful and disdainful of tradition, we apologize.
We have town unions everywhere we are. The town unions should now take it as their responsibility to train new arrivals on how to respect host communities and befriend the people. Everywhere you go in Nigeria, apart from the indigenes, the most populous are the Igbos. Have you ever stopped to imagine what it can do for you politically if they are your friends and not enemies? You will dominate the politics of the area, of course. But then, because of our attitudes which nobody explained to our hosts, they get jealous of our successes. We have a success mentality that manifests wherever we go; it does not matter if it is in America, China or elsewhere. Go to those places and you will see that our people are doing very well.
To survive, the Igbos need to adjust their attitude. Manufacturing enemies does not help anyone. We need to appreciate that we are in somebody’s land and there is need to respect his culture, and observe the dos and don’ts. Let us sow seeds that will outlast us. Instead of the almajiri moving around, why don’t you take one or two of them off the streets and put them in school with your own children? When they complete their education, they will become responsible people who will no longer be available to kill you at just the wave of N200. In fact, I will talk to Chief Nnia Nwodo about this because this is the kind of statement that should be made by the President of Ohanaeze.
I wish to make it clear to every section of Nigeria that we didn’t come out to antagonise or annoy our host communities. It is just that no one explained our system to you. There is justifiable hostility towards Anambra people even among the Igbos. For instance, a young man from Anambra will greet, “Mr Okeke, how are you?” despite the huge difference in age. In Abia, they will say, “dee or daa”, showing respect to elders. I was brought up to call my father by his baptismal name, Joshua. These days, Anambra youths are learning to show respect to elders. Previously, they will call you by your given name. In fact, those from other parts of Igboland will consider you insulting for addressing him the way you do back home.
Is it a cultural thing?
Yes, but it needs to change.