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Chief Philip Asiodu, an astute technocrat, has been in and out of government since the First Republic. He was former Permanent Secretary during the First Republic and the military regimes of Generals J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi and Yakubu Gowon; ex-Special Adviser to the President on Economic Affairs during the Second Republic; one-time Secretary for Petroleum and Mineral Resources under Chief Ernest Shonekan’s interim government and erstwhile Chief Economic Adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. Chief Asiodu speaks to the editorial team of TheEconomy comprising Chris Ajaero, Dike Onwuamaeze, Pita Ochai and Michael Otogo on the 1975 purge in the civil service, the ongoing power sector reform, the planned privatisation of the refineries, the economic implications of the recent rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP and why he opted to be on the side of the federal authorities rather than with his fellow Igbos in the defunct Republic of Biafra during the Nigerian civil war. Excerpts:

 

you celebrated your 80th birthday in February and you are still looking much younger and very agile. What is your trick and how does it feel like being an octogenarian?

I don’t know how it feels yet because I just joined the group of octogenarians. As you know, my birthday was in February. I was born in 1934. Well, compared with my age mates, maybe you will say I am relatively healthy. I believe I have remained healthy because I have been doing everything in moderation. I eat and drink moderately, and try to have regular exercises. I am glad that when we were young, regular exercises were emphasized even in the elementary school. I attended King’s College, Lagos where you now have over 2000 students. In my days, we had a maximum of 150. So, playing grounds were more than adequate. Everybody was encouraged to take part in exercises, and you find that when you exercise, you burn extra calories. More so, when you carry on that tradition through life, it helps.  I also play golf which has been quite good for me. One of the best exercises is walking. While playing golf, you could walk 8 kilometres without being aware that you have done that distance; whereas if somebody had told you to walk from Victoria Island to Ebute-Metta, you would start protesting. Simply put, it is moderation in eating and drinking, as well as regular exercises. Also, there is the psychological factor of trying as much as possible to be at peace with yourself and your neighbours. And then always have hope. No matter how difficult the circumstances, believe that things will improve. In that way, you reduce the tendency towards depression, stress.  People don’t know that by giving room to them, you only compound your problems. There is nothing good in life as good health. No matter how rich you are, if you are not healthy, you will not be happy. So I am very sad to see the deterioration in preventive health, the basic thing which town councils and local authorities used to do; making sure that everybody is relatively in good health. It is very sad that over the last 30 to 40 years, those who have been in leadership positions to take decision on our land use patterns and urban type of development have abandoned the layout parks and recreational zones. I am sad to see the parks we inherited from our colonial masters completely lost. As a young man I played in Ikoyi Park; as a young father, I took my children there; and when I was a grandfather, it has ceased to exist. They went there and cut off every tree, and built houses. They have this strange Nigerian sense of humour — after destroying the park —they now call it Park View Estate.

Quality of life is not assured by the magnificent or cost of your buildings, but by the things you do. When we first came here, to Victoria Island where I live, the town planners advised us not to build structures in front of the sea in order not to obstruct the incoming sea breeze and the outgoing land wind. Then, if you came here at night, you feel this cool breeze as there were no buildings obstructing the gentle wind. Lagos used to have land and sea wind but things have changed, thanks to the type of structures we now have in Victoria Island and the lack of respect for proper rules in town planning. I was deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lagos Affairs in 1964 when the Federal Government was in charge of Lagos, so I have the plan of the original layout of Victoria Island. It has some open spaces meant for children to play just like when you go to parts of London. In almost every 300 yards, you have a close and in every close there is a space for a park, but all our open spaces have been allocated by various governments under pressure by their friends. In Lagos today, there is no green belt; there is no well-conceived scheme of any green belt and parks at the lounge of the city where these trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Unfortunately, we travel abroad and admire the parks and open spaces in Central London. Those people love money too, but why didn’t they give up their parks? Well, that is a challenge.

How have you been spending retirement after serving the country meritoriously for several years?

Well, I finally left the civil service in 1975 at the age of 41, but mind you, I had planned to retire from government at the age of 45 maximum, in order for me to have 10 to 15 years which I will put in active serve in the private sector, to try implementing what we were preaching.  When I left in 1975, they carried out their shenanigans of probes trying to justify why they said we should go. Luckily for me, no tribunal found anything against me. The government in its White Paper which I protested just said that I should forfeit some uncompleted duplexes in Umunede. But I did not even have a square of land in Umunede just to show you the quality of the rubbish they called a probe.  I had a duplex under construction in Umuda in Asaba. Umunede is 40 miles away, but they said I have a house there.

After that, some people invited me to join the board of their companies and I did.  I had been in the Ministry of Industry.  In fact, in 1971 when they wanted me to move to the Ministry of Mines and Power to be in charge of oil and minerals, I wasn’t keen because we had just done this plan in which we gave top priority to the agro-allied industry, which would be the basis of transforming our economy. The second priority was petrochemicals. In preparing the plan, though I was the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry, not Agriculture, some people were suggesting they wanted to keep a part of the country for the farmers and another part for manufacturing. You know, Nigerian politics is never based on logic; they prefer magic to logic. I tried pointing out to them that I was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, but they went ahead to appoint me as chairman of Baccita Sugar Industry. At that time they had more than 3000 square miles of sugar under cultivation. At the peak of the harvest season we brought in extra workers running into several thousands. We had processing engineers. We also had marketing and administrative divisions. So in terms of high level of employment, I told them Baccita did more for development than say the Port Harcourt refinery. During the First Republic and under the military regimes of Ironsi and Gowon, the emphasis was on how to develop the country; how to improve the quality of life through the provision of education and employment to the largest number of people.  And the founding fathers — Zik, Sardauna, Awolowo, Aminu Kano— during their campaigns for independence, were saying “Give us independence and we shall do more for our people”, and they lived up to their promises. When they got self-rule, they established farm settlement schemes some of which we are trying to revive after abandoning them for 50 years. It is a great tragedy that we had the coup of January 1966, because if it didn’t happen, our founding fathers would have succeeded within a few years and their lieutenants would have imbibed the same philosophy and sustained by successive governments. At worst, we would have been like Malaysia if there was continuity but that was not to be. I campaigned then that they should merge the Ministry of Agriculture with Industry to have a Ministry of Production; I wanted to be Permanent Secretary of that ministry. But the authorities then felt that there was urgent work to be done in the oil sector and that I was best suited for that.  As an obedient civil servant, I went there. So, my intention was really as I said earlier, to retire.  I joined the civil service in 1957. After 20 years of service, I would have left, but I left two years earlier. So, when I retired, I went into business. I also set up a consultancy company specially to advise the Federal Government on how to set up industries and to invest. I also got one or two friends to set up a furniture manufacturing company and we had our factory in Asaba. In fact, we did many things. We used to exhibit our products in various cities. Then there was some effective protection but later on things went hay-wire and all the protection for industries was gone.  Power supply too became unreliable and was in fact unavailable. I had to buy a transformer in Asaba first to get power supply to the factory.  It was from my transformer that they now fed the new GRA and then the Government House, Asaba. The factory has been moribund in the last 10 years due to a combination of factors, especially the high cost of running the business and lack of protection for the industry. But even under this harsh business environment, we exported some furniture.

I also partnered with some people to develop a 1000-hectare farm mainly growing maize and cassava in Abahuno, which is 20 miles from Asaba. Suddenly, under the regime of (Olusegun) Obasanjo, they introduced what they called minimum wage and applied it to the farm sector. It was completely unreasonable, and this greatly affected things. They later removed the agricultural sector from the list, but by then it was not easy to resuscitate the farm sector. Besides that, great damage was done by the Land Use Decree in two ways. First, they said to prove it was your land, there must be some development, and many people went and started mowing down trees and forest with bulldozers just to show that they are the owners and this created erosion, and destroyed fertility of the soil. But more damaging economically, which has not yet been addressed, is that under the Land Use Decree, a governor can without any notice revoke your title. So, the banks were not willing to take land as collateral to give loans to farmers. The damage it has done to our agricultural revolution is yet to be corrected.

So many things were done through the military decree system without adequate consideration. The civil service that was inherited from the colonial administration boasting patriotic civil servants, which had the prestige even after the civil war, was destroyed. If the civil service was not damaged, it would have been able to advice on the pros and cons of certain decisions because that civil service had institutional memory; it had international connection. The world works with those it knows and that was not available. After the civil war, there was the reconciliation, rehabilitation, reconstruction programme of 1970 to 1974 and the economy was growing at an average of 11.5 percent per annum. Imagine if we had continued like in the next 10 years. We would be like the Asian tigers. We would not be talking about poverty today. We would be close to the first world. It was that disruption; the abandoning of the 1970–1974 action plan and more seriously, the neglect of the discipline in planning that stunted economic growth of Nigeria. Economic growth then declined to two percent in the 1980s and a decade up till 1999 compared to the 11.5 percent before, and with a population growth rate of three percent per annum. At independence, not more than 25 percent could be classified as living under the poverty level. Today, it is more than 75 percent. Ignore the fact that we have produced one or two people who feature in Forbes’ wealthiest list.

You still feel sad that the mass purge of the civil service in 1975 impacted negatively on the civil service but General Murtala Mohammed claimed it was meant to reform the civil service. Are you saying the exercise was not well thought-out?

Murtala Mohammed may be admired for certain things but if he claimed he was reforming the civil service, with what knowledge and authority? What did he know about the civil service? What did he know he was reforming? They claimed that the civil service had become too powerful. The civil service had prevented General Gowon from acting in what they called the military manner. What is the military manner? Is it to do things without proper research? Weigh available options and try to choose the best without adequate knowledge of the details involved? You saw the consequences. What happened under Gowon with the civil service and thereafter is still intact. I think we can go into the motives behind it. Nigeria sometimes is a strange place. What really happened to the civil service is that during the 1966 coup, the military drove away the politicians they said were corrupt, and they wanted permanent secretaries to assume the title of ministers. But we said “no”, that the military regime is transient.

The immediate two military leaders —Ironsi and Gowon— relatively knew the various elements of administration and did not tamper with the civil service. They allowed the civil service to continue administering and helping in the process of governance and that was why we survived those two traumatic coups and the civil war. The 1975 purge did not just scuttle the country’s economic growth, it also led to the destruction of the public service, ruining of tenure, damage of due process and merit as the basis for selecting the leaders of the service, but more seriously, caused the abandoning of well-considered national plan. I would say that we are still groping, praying and seeking a real change, which will launch us back to the trajectory of development, which we abandoned in 1975.

In the book, EMEKA, by Fredrick Forsyth, the late Dim Emeka Ojukwu  recalled your relationship with him in your university years at Oxford and how both of you agreed that once you completed your studies, you would return to Nigeria to contribute to the development of the country and that your place would be in the civil service. What inspired your passion for the development of the country?

Well, we were passionate about coming back to contribute to the development of Nigeria not necessarily in the civil service because his first choice wasn’t in the civil service nor mine. But the point is that we belonged to a group while we were in Oxford. Ojukwu and I often discussed how we would come and contribute towards making Nigeria a great place. Many of us of in that generation were brought up as young people within Renaissance Africa of Zik. The emphasis then was on how Africa could be restored to the position where it will be respected. A country like Nigeria was in the vanguard of Renaissance Africa and in those days, the West African Pilot, published by Zik was specialized in publicising any black man who achieved anything anywhere.  Take for example people from Ghana, Liberia etc. And in America, he had been with people like Marcus Garvey and Du Bois talking about Pan-Africanism. The vista then was not just Nigeria but Africa. So, we were brought up in this ennobling vision of restoring Africa, to respect and transform the continent and we communicated this message and helped the nationalist movement that was demanding independence. We preached the great role for Nigeria as a catalyst for African renaissance. By this time, the regions were just being formed. The civil service was still one. It was only in 1954 that they divided the country into eastern, northern, and western regions. So, it was in that context that we were saying surely, Nigeria has great promise and that if we got back, we would contribute to realizing that promise.

You said the civil service was not your first choice. Which was your first?

I thought that after studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), I would read law because my wish was to be in politics. So, after studying PPE, I went to London and started working in London County Council hoping to read law. And as I saw politics evolving, I didn’t really think I would venture into that anymore, but I wasn’t thinking of the civil service as such. And then there was an advertisement for recruitment of lecturers for what was then the Institute of Administration, Zaria and I remember putting in an application. For some reasons they probably thought I wasn’t a Nigerian and they sent me papers about how to live in Nigeria and what I needed to do. I wrote back that I am a Nigerian and didn’t need that kind of information. I didn’t hear from them anymore just as well. While staying in London, I had not completely abandoned the idea of studying law, but I was not so happy with the way politics was evolving. Then, there was an advertisement for Foreign Service in the Diplomatic Service, and I applied and was interviewed. I was recruited and posted to the External Affairs Division of the Chief Secretary’s Office which later became the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

External Affairs is part of civil service, but it had a Division between Foreign Service and Home Service. I served sometimes in Lagos. Then I was in Nigerian Commission with M.T. Mbu as commissioner. From there, I went for practical exposure and training at the High Commission in Australia. I later went to France to study French Language. The idea was that I might be posted to the Nigerian Embassy to be opened in Paris, but it was not to be because of diplomatic spat between Africa and France. At that time, the French carried out nuclear test in the Sahara desert in utter disregard for the opposition of the test by African states. The continent had threatened to break up diplomatic relations with France if it carried out the nuclear test. But it happened that only Nigeria carried out that resolution, so we didn’t open our embassy in France when we should in 1961. I was later posted to the United Nations, again to the British Mission because we were not independent yet in March 1960. On October 1, 1960 when Nigeria gained independence, I bowed out of the British Mission officially. We were admitted on October 7, and I formally became Nigeria’s permanent mission to the UN. While serving there, I realized that you have to back up your diplomacy with economic strength and military capability otherwise you are just making noise.  I felt there was the need for Nigeria to industrialize, develop, and create military capability to support its foreign policy. So I asked for transfer to the domestic service which was granted.

How would you describe the role of the civil service in Nigeria’s four major transitional stages — from the colonial rule to independence; parliamentary democracy; the military era, and the current political dispensation?

Well, to begin with, especially in a developing country, the manifestation of the government to the people is the civil service. In any situation too, government can only deliver service if it has capable civil service. As you know, the Chinese were the first people to introduce bureaucracy. They went even quite far in establishing special schools about 2000 years ago and making sure that people who were recruited into the service went through trainings and were objective. But coming nearer home, in Britain, the civil service didn’t develop straight away.   It was Lord Charles Trevelyan who was the architect of the civil service system in Britain around 1855. He reformed the British civil service by making the institution meritocratic. It is the same type of civil service that they introduced throughout the Commonwealth.

When our people were negotiating for independence, the question on the type of civil service we should have came up. And the British gave the advice that they have been better served by an independent civil service and described what that meant. And our founding fathers — Zik, Sarduana, Awolowo, Eyo Ita, and Aminu Kano — representing the major parties in 1954, signed a statement that they believed in an independent civil service.  As a result, the Nigeria Public Service Commission was established in 1954. Mind you, we are just celebrating 60 years of its founding. However, the civil service was divided, regions were created and by 1958, the federal and the regions all had their own independent Civil Service Commission and this was how things remained. When the British were leaving, we had a civil service with the tradition where the ministers and the politicians did not involve themselves in who was recruited and who was not. There was this tradition that the civil service will be non-partisan and dedicated to serving the government of the day to the best of its ability. At the apex of the ministry, you have the Permanent Secretary who coordinates all the technical and professional decisions, distils them into quality options and advises the minister who goes to cabinet meetings. During the parliamentary system, the beauty is that every day, practically in parliament, the minster and the prime minister respond to parliamentary questions. So, anybody could ask anything about your ministry and its performance. And there will be supplementary questions. Of course, it was the business of the civil service to prepare the minister for the questions which he will answer and then anticipate for him the questions that will follow — supplementary questions. This role was well understood. This was the civil service which we inherited, and it worked well. The politicians of the First Republic were people who had careers in law, medicine, trade, and education. They were mature people who respected and accepted the objectivity of the civil service. And then things worked well.

When the military came and the political parties were disbanded, and the ministers were chased away, they wanted permanent secretaries to assume the title of ministers and we said no. As I said, Aguiyi Ironsi’s six months military administration and Gowon’s regime from July 1966 to July 1975 respected what the founding fathers left behind — an independent public service. It was the traumatic purge of 1975 under Muritala/Obasanjo, which set aside the Public Service Commission that dealt a big blow to the civil service. Then, at around 1:00pm everyday, the radio would announce the retirement of this or that person with immediate effect, without pension.

The first two military rulers left the civil service as they met it and it was able to do the things I described earlier; and it is still a model. But that purge destroyed the civil service. The Muritala/Obasanjo regime also abandoned the 1975-1980 plan, which was to transform the economy radically.  It would have created a solid base for industrialization and value-added economy.  That was how the discipline of planning was dumped.  When a country has no plans coupled with the political parties which have been abolished with no overriding ideology and promise of the pre-independence period, then you almost have a political vacuum, so to speak. Where is the country going? What is it pursuing? It is in that context that the government has to be accessed on its delivery and the civil service is an instrument for that delivery. When your tasks are not defined, your goals are nebulous, and your processes are anarchic, it is difficult to have a civil service which is disciplined, well- motivated and well-coordinated. Then when a regime suddenly chases away people without due process, you destroy the concept of job security in the civil service.  A man was doing his work assiduously for 20 years, hoping that before he retires, he probably will have a house, and his children would have been trained, but you wake up one day and distort that. Some people died of shock; it destroyed the civil service and introduced the euphemism – “make hay while the sun shines”, a euphemism for corruption. Before the purge, there was a rule in the civil service that you can’t spend money except it is in the budget. But after the purge, corruption crept into the civil service because civil servants realized that tomorrow, they may be asked to go. You now had a situation where there is nobody to remind anyone of the rules. Impunity had been brought in from the top because it was great impunity to destroy all the processes of Civil Service Commission, by reeling out names of those retired and issuing a decree overnight so that you cannot seek redress to the injustice. They even went further and said they didn’t want to hear the name permanent secretary; and even barred them from coming to council among others. But Balewa in his wisdom had set up what we had as an Economic and Finance Committee of Permanent Secretaries who would, through the secretary to the prime minister, advise him and his cabinet on cross-cutting issues. That facilitated decision making in the cabinet.

At present, what you have is preoccupation with who will issue what contract and of course, all the corruption that goes with it. It is not sustainable. After the 1975 purge, the impression was given that federal character means allocation of positions on state basis, quota and things like that. That helped to enthrone mediocrity. The way the purge was carried out meant that at the end of it, people who succeeded were just people who were available seniors, whereas during the First Republic, there was a conscious effort to identify high flyers, people who were good enough and you challenge them with active appointments, training and all that and if they perform they were appointed to the applause of others. I happen to be one of those, I left the foreign service in 1964, joined the domestic serve as deputy permanent secretary and by 1965 I was permanent secretary at the age of 31. We made effort to go to the universities to ask for the brightest students because the civil service then was the first choice but after the destruction of 1975 there was no tenure, no guarantee of anything.  This was how the purge led to the enthronement of mediocrity which was compounded later in 1988 when Babangida promulgated Decree No. 43 which stipulated that ministers could now hire and fire and they brought people into the service, some junior people began to supervise their senior and it has festered.  The Oronsaye Committee tried to address the issue. Then another idea which they borrowed from the Army was the wholesale promotion of people which was brought into the civil service. When I was there before retiring in 1975 maybe you can count the number of people of the status of Permanent Secretary in the federal government and theoretically a Perm. Sec. is in charge of the ministry, there maybe one or two senior officers – ex-permanent secretaries who are on special duties. But when I went back in 1993, I think in the Presidency alone – Head of Service, there were more than 20.

So, today, I am not really happy with the kind of civil service we have and I don’t know how far they have gone with the report of the Steve Oronsaye Committee. But I believe there is great room to look again, what structure do we need to deliver? Civil service does not exist in isolation; remuneration in the civil service has to be equivalent to that of the private sector but not on a bloated service basis. So you now find out that the destruction of 1975 compounded in 1988 has given us a civil service which is no longer in a position to authoritatively advice ministers. Its objectivity is called into question, non-partisanship called into question, but all these are core values we must reinstate if we want to make the progress we should.

I had the misfortune or fortune that I entered the civil service under the colonial administration. I was there in the First Republic and during the first and second military regimes before I was retired in 1975. In October 1983 I was recalled and I came back to public service not as a civil servant but as an adviser to the president on economic matters and chairman of cabinet committee. Unfortunately by the end of December 1983, the government was toppled and we left. Even at that time, the civil service was trying to return to its good old days. The Second Republic under Alhaji Shehu Shagari allowed the civil service to play some roles it should but the Buhari coup of 1983 and that of Babangida made it to suffer some setbacks.  And in 1993 when I went back as Secretary for Petroleum and Mineral Resources; you could see the depredation which has happened to the civil service.  Then finally I went back in 1999 as Chief Economic Adviser and Chief Executive of the National Planning Commission when General Obasanjo who was one of the architects of the 1975 destruction decided that we must strengthen the civil service and initiated a number of reforms, training and all that but as far as I am concerned, the mindset and attitude of the political leadership is not yet supportive of a revitalized, motivated, fearless, independent civil service. It will require that political commitment for these reforms to become effective. Secondly as I said earlier you cannot perform in a vacuum, until the leadership agrees that politics should be about how to spread development to the public, how to empower as many Nigerians as possible to enjoy a higher standard of living and a better quality of life, how to exalt the Nigerian state to become stronger and not just say this but reinvent our political parties because as far as I am concerned we have no real political parties. Political parties are supposed to be led by people with a vision of what society should be like, people with programmes on what they must do within a certain time frame and it is in that context they are seeking the leadership of the county to enable them implement them. At present there is very little debate going on in Nigeria between the political parties on issues. Even the recent thing we saw of some people saying they are migrating from PDP to APC and the APC is saying come along, keep your people, keep your structures, what is the difference? Does it mean that by coming to APC you have become a progressive?

I would have been happy to see the political parties now engage in debate as to who can implement what better. It is in that context that everybody now knows what is to be expected; it is on that basis that you now challenge civil service in terms of its performance. In the mean time, we should implement the civil service reforms to make the civil service efficient, world class and we have to try to make them ICT-compliant. We also need to do something about the mechanistic application of the federal character principle whereby you allocate positions on quota. The world is busy going from America to Europe and vice versa recruiting high flyers and top people to run their systems. We cannot run away from trying to reintroduce merit and productivity as the driver for advancement in the civil service. Only the best should be good enough.

So you feel this is the only way to reform the civil service so that we go back to what we had in those eras?

Even if we don’t go back to what we had, let us go back to what is efficient. For instance, the civil service of old had its authority, had its power to do what it did, essentially in the context of a situation in which government was very much committed to developing the county. In those days, the civil service was often the provider of service because nobody else could. We had the ministry of works with its people building roads and all that. We have now moved into a stage where you are saying that competent private sector people should execute these projects. Now in that case what is important is that you must have a civil service which is competent enough, independent enough, and objective enough to actually go through the tender system and get you the best. In our days, no politician interfered with tendering and even if you have to do selective tendering there was a basis for which you selected the limited number. So the new civil service must be competent enough to do that; it must also be well- trained and to do the basic planning. You can’t proceed without planning, so the civil service must have well-trained people to do that. We must also extend this to the public service. The Police, for instance has to be properly reorganized and motivated because what saved this country in 1966 when the military coup occurred was because we had a strong civil service and the police was effective and respected.

A few months ago, the country witnessed a very sad moment during the recruitment by the Nigeria Immigration Service. What is your view on this and the alarming rate of unemployment which has given rise to the illicit business of defrauding young Nigerians through job scam?

I must say the recent incidence of taking thousands of people to the stadia, pretending to recruit them is not only a national disgrace, but also a racial shame; it is a continental disgrace. It should never have happened. I don’t know the adequate punishment to be meted on those who perpetuated the act because it is completely wrong to say you are outsourcing recruitment. If there is vacancy of about 4000, you know what the minimum qualifications are and you can use the process of elimination. In these days of quota and other criteria, you know what you want from the catchment areas. It would have been better organized that way. To ask people to come in tens of thousands to be recruited was wrong. So, there is no excuse for that and I don’t know where we are now in the enquiries. In terms of jobs and all that, if we had the basic infrastructure, that is power supply, unemployment would have been addressed. We are spending maybe 10 times more than what it should be to deliver power to ourselves privately. The small-scale industry cannot afford it. If we have power today, the tailor who is struggling with just one machine could be able to have 10 and recruit people. I am very sad about this failure to deliver power because I was the founding chairman of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) now defunct. I helped to implement the recommendations of the World Bank, which supported and gave us good Chinese experts from Taiwan. They recommended that we merged the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) and the National Dams Authority (NDA) to form NEPA. I named it “national” instead of Nigeria because we were hoping to export power to Niger Republic and other neighbouring countries.  I wanted them to see NEPA as national and not Nigerian. To help us, we negotiated with Ontario Hydro, which runs nuclear, hydro, and thermal stations and you know how far Canada is in terms of distance. They gave us about 20 supporting staff and were doing well up to 1975. At that time, if there was going to be an outage, we were told. In 1973, in anticipation, I got an engineering firm from Canada and another from Switzerland to project Nigeria’s power demands for the future and to identify how we will meet them. They identified hydro power as a source, and the pipelines we need to deliver gas. They gave us the cost and we were extrapolating from the World Bank figures. We should have been investing $2 billion per year from 1975 in creating new generating capacity and $1 billion in transmission. We did nothing from 1975 to 1979. Again, as I said earlier, we do not respect arithmetic and logic. At three percent population growth per annum, about three to four million Nigerians were being added to the existing population every year. If one of them needed only one bulb each, what is that in terms of kilowatts? What did we do about it? You cannot find that in the Ministry of Power; maybe there is one in the library of COREN – the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria. But people were being appointed as general managers or managing directors of NEPA. What did they do? Maybe at Christmas and Sallah, they will buy 50,000 rams and send to people like you and I. Is that delivery? It is due to the lack of seriousness in governance. So, this is the problem and since 1999 we should have done much better in the power sector. It is so critical. I have been to Turkey, and from a room like this, a woman supervising 10 girls can make table cloths and export them to the United States. Thanks to former President Bill Clinton’s policy, Africa can export anything to the USA without quota restriction. Mauritius is exporting about $1 billion garments to the USA. Nigeria couldn’t. Our strong textile industry has collapsed. You cannot pay 10 times the cost of power and compete. We must address the problem of epileptic power supply.

Do you think that privatisation is the right way to go?

Nobody argues against privatisation. It is good but when you are privatising, you have to stick to transparent criteria. I said at the International Association for Energy Association some years ago that I didn’t like this path. It is not helpful. I hope that sooner or later because of pressure we will return to our senses. My own idea is that Nigeria should be divided into four or five zones and we should look for big players — those who will say that within three years we will achieve about 10,000 megawatts of electricity because the market is here and  these things are begging to be developed. And then, we will now give concessions to generate, to transmit, and distribute. But the national regulatory authority must insist on specification which allows for interconnectivity so that if there is shortage in one zone you can transmit from another. That way we would have big players like we did with GSM. You will then say for 45 years, concentrate on your zone. But after that I will allow for takeover like it happened in England. This is the route I would have taken. But you have seen those who bought the DISCOs.

Who are they?

They are the people you knew. Some are as old as I or almost. Are they in a position to go and negotiate with the technical partners? And we know how inefficient the public sector has been. Then you put transmission into a public sector controlled monopoly. What are you trying to achieve? And then you invited a prestigious company like Manitoba Hydro to come and run your transmission and you will not handover to them and the best people they brought left. Now you eventually handed over to them and there was a reporting system and within a few months you announce a national transmission board. There is confusion. And you designate that this one is to do corporate and this one is to do commercial. Are you going to run the place for the technical people who you should have brought and said I give you five years after which you give me a Nigerian management?

Take the refineries too. In the few months I spent in 1993 as secretary for petroleum, I had negotiated through the group  director in charge of engineering desk for Mobil to takeover Port Harcourt refineries, ELF and Total to take over Kaduna refineries and  another firm from Finland to take over Warri refineries. I had told them to do technical and management audit; tell us what the bottlenecks were and what is to be expanded. Tell us who among the people there are good. Take them into your system and re-train them. Then run those refineries for 18 months at international standard at the end of which we shall privatise according to the formula I introduced for LNG, 49 percent for the public sector and 49 percent for the company running it and two percent for the private Nigerian institution. So this will ensure Nigerian majority. It will also ensure proper commercial cooperation. That is what that is happening at the LNG. Why did I have to do that? Because I knew the history of LNG failures from 1965, when eventually new ministers would come and say they have hired and fired the chairman and the board because we had 50 percent. Painfully, that is how we reduce public sector to 49 percent so that things will move on. And of course then, nobody would lend us money. We started an escrow account because we had to finance the first two streams from equity. That escrow account because of what I met was that they said government took $400 million from the previous equity account (they said they paid back, NNPC said they didn’t pay back). But this time you can only withdraw your money only if you say you are no longer part of the system, which I think no Nigeria government would like to do. Secondly, that instruction has to be witnessed by the Swiss ambassador because we domiciled the escrow in Switzerland. That is why Dan Etete was laughed at when he announced that they have sacked the board. Otherwise we won’t have that LNG. So I believe that why it is taking us so many years is because people are no longer taking decisions in the interest of the state and the economy. There is too much personal pursuit and too little strong leadership.  A strong leadership would insist that “we must achieve this thing in the exaltation of the Nigerian state” and by extension, the welfare of the majority of Nigerians. This is the context we must pray God to take us to so that other things will fall in line.

How do feel about the current challenges the country is facing like Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping and the seeming lack of development? 

Boko Haram insurgency is a matter of security and as I have said, we must go back to the stage where we spent security votes for security purposes. We must make sure that we gather intelligence better. I’m not happy with the certain aspects of the capacity in the security forces. God forbid, but supposing if there is a mutiny of a brigade 100 kilometres from here, I am not sure we have the transport command that within 24 hours could deliver enough forces to suppress the mutiny. That again is a matter of utilizing whatever money we had judiciously. In 2000 I did a comparative analysis of expenditures on security in Brazil, India, Egypt and Nigeria and what they had for it. We and Egypt were spending about the same amount. But what percentage of our armed forces personnel are really combatant? What percentage is spent looking after retired generals? How many frontline planes and tanks do we have? We have to look at these things if we want to become a more serious country to achieve what our destiny should be. I had hoped when I was in the service that by the turn of the 20th century Nigeria should have done for the Blackman what Japan did for the yellow man in the 19th century. And that is to bring us back to self respect and commanding the respect of the world by mastering technology. We must have the right policy on infrastructure and the aspect of good governance that has to do with respect for sanctity of contracts because we would require a lot of people to partner with us in investment and technology. So if we went back, put our money in infrastructure, power, education and honestly work with foreign people with investment and technology, and then you create employment and development and  the people available to be recruited for Boko Haram and militancy will be reduced drastically. In our days before we finish our studies we have booked our tickets to return home because there was work. And without anyone asking you silly questions you have got your job. No country is as blessed as ours in terms prospects of having economic development. I used to tell them, go to the oil fields near California to Pittsburgh area in Illinois is 2,500 miles. But in Nigeria, Ajaokuta to Warri is 400 miles. Compact. We have 800 kilometres from the ocean front. We have arable land. We have coal of about three billion unexploited. We have oil and gas, we have gem stones; we have tin and columbite and the textile mills that can employ more than a million people if it is reactivated. What we need is power. Even the petro chemicals can produce raw materials for various industries. And above all, God gave us a fantastic geographical location. We only need 3,500 miles to get to the markets of Europe and America. The Asian countries need 11,000 miles. What we need is a leadership that agrees that a little amount of money is enough and it is better to write your name into history like Mandela and Nyerere. Even today, don’t we remember Herbert Marculay, Azikiwe, Sarduana, Awolowo, Okpara. What mansions did they leave behind? All the growth we have had recently is as a result of favourable oil prices. Then gas is of the future and we have more gas than oil. We have all the alternative energy.  I used to tell journalists in the days that Nigeria is like where you have a brilliant pianist, violist, saxophonist waiting for a conductor to have a glorious symphony.

How would you react to the recent rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP which places Nigeria as the biggest economy in Africa and the 26th in the world?

It is very correct to rebase and have better figures to plan. This means that it is easier now to think in terms of becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world if we do the right things within the next 10 to 15 years. It may not necessarily be 2020 because it is around the corner. It is good to rebase because then you will be comparing the likes. But people should not misunderstand what it means. It doesn’t mean that we are among the developed economies. It does not mean that we are among the diversified economies. It is also good that the government said that in terms of per capita income we are 121 and not 26. So there is a great task ahead of us to return Nigerians to happiness. At independence, our poverty level was 25 percent. It is now 75 percent. That shows how far we have gone back. In the middle of the 1970s we were 55 from the top richest countries in terms of per capita income. Now we are 121. We were at par with South Korea and Malaysia in the 1970s, now where are we? By 1975, our per capita income was already $1000 and we were growing at 11.5 percent. But let us reduce that to 10 percent. At 10 percent you would double in 10 years time. Imagine if we had continued to grow at that rate maybe our per capita income would have been above $10,000 presently but we are still at $3000. That shows you how much time we have lost. If you take consumption of electricity per capita as an index of development well being, we will probably be two kilowatt per person whereas it  is 10 times more in South Africa. So, Nigerians should not misunderstand becoming the largest economy to mean that we have become suddenly a more diversified and developed economy with better per capita income and technology and independent ability to sustain our development.

Our economy is growing and at the same time unemployment is increasing. How can we make the growth more inclusive?

You people like using the word ‘inclusive’. I like growth. The fact is that we should go back to what we have identified long ago as the primary area we should concentrate on, which is agro-allied development. We should go back into farming properly giving the input necessary. I will take a few crops we can easily produce like cassava, maize, yam, beans and maybe groundnuts and calculate what it takes a farmer using normal means to get a tonne and I will introduce guaranteed producer prices because in the past we used it to encourage farmers to produce. I will also create an organisation of buyer of last resort, so if the farmer cannot sell immediately I will buy from him. It now enables me to tell processors; because we cannot just produce, we must process it to give it a longer shelf life and to give it international marked ability. I will then tell the producers I can give you whatever tonnage you want to set up a processing industry. Over a period of seven years you will see that our agriculture would be transformed and when you apply the value chain you will begin to transform the economy. Until sometime ago Denmark didn’t manufacture anything but it has one of the highest standards of living depending on agriculture. Now, that is the number one priority. Two, as I said before, we started with the hope of going into capital and intermediate goods and we took pulp and paper. The gimiliana we planted with World Bank facility within seven years you can pulp the gimiliana. And in the north around Bauchi we started planting pine which would give long tripled paper. So between Bauchi, Iwopin and Oku Ibokun, we were doing that , but they drove away the expatriates we brought in 1975.

Then you go to petro-chemicals. I was in Eleme in 1993. They had brilliant people and all they needed was working capital but we denied them that. Then, the fertiliser company, by now we should have had four times the size of the existing plant. We started these things, but because of the corruption which crept in we could not make progress. People must draw a distinction between vital national interests which will favour all of us and their selfish interests. We should come back to the path of sanity and national development.

Nigeria appears to be in a dilemma over the issues of oil subsidy and the privatization of petroleum products refineries. What would you suggest as the panacea to these challenges?

Again, it is a national disgrace to be talking about oil subsidy. This is a matter we would have solved in 1993. We had gone into negotiation with the trade unions that used to deride me as the Apostle of Appropriate Pricing. Appropriate pricing in the sense that we are not saying that prices of petroleum products will be the same as in countries that are non oil producers. No! I was only saying that X-refineries price in Nigeria will be the same as X refineries price in Spain, Ghana, Ivory Coast so that our refineries will be able to earn enough, maintain themselves and run properly. But, because we are an oil producer and derive our revenue from crude oil taxation, we are not taking any money from product taxation whereas in Europe 75 percent of the price you pay is for product taxation. So these people who do not have crude oil rely a lot on product taxation. So their price will be different. But at least we would have stopped what has been happening of bringing oil here and diverting them. If the X-refineries prices are the same then those people will work with us to get our oil officially. So, after negations in 1993 we came to the conclusion that we will abolish subsidies. We set the date June 1 for the commencement of the removal of oil subsidy and we had worked with the marketers that come June 1 there will be two sections in a petrol station. On one section we are going to introduce a new thing we are going to call super premium, which will give you the proper octane because many of the things we are selling here are of lower octane. On that side you pay the market rate, take your petrol while on the other side you will have your subsidised products but to be reduced gradually month by month and that over a period of 24 months cost of fuel would be reduced. So, this pressure of equalisation because I have spent so much carrying one truck to Kano which again has made room for a lot of corruption will not be there. Okay, they say that pipelines are being sabotaged. Why are they being sabotaged? Will a person employed and earning well go to siphon fuel knowing how risky it is. All these are the consequences of the road not taken. In the 1975 – 1980 plan, we recognised even then that oil is a wasting asset and that the temporary success we had while oil lasted should be used to diversify the economy and have renewable sources of income.

Are you suggesting that the refineries should be privatised?

Yes. This is what I have just told you that we had negotiated. But we should handle the privatisation of the refineries the way we did privatisation of the power sector. You have seen the DISCOs? Who are these who have them? What we negotiated was for the oil majors to take over the refineries and bring them to international standards. During my brief stay as petroleum secretary in 1993, the subsidy issue would have been sorted out. But today subsidy has created more corruption than we could ever think of. In our time 1971 to 1975 it was inconceivable to think about collusion between the Customs, the DPR, the oil company, the tanker’s captain taking the oil who has to sign to say he has taken 750,000 litres whereas he has taken 1,000,000 litres and the DPR man counter signs. But so many things have happened. Then, too the agencies which were supposed to monitor were doing their work – the navy and co. But to think of some them now escorting barges to ships waiting beyond the harbours is terrible. We must go back and abolish the subsidy. It cannot be sustained. It doesn’t even go to the people you are subsidising them for. However, the best way to privatise is not giving away assets worth a billion Dollars at $50 million. If you get something for nothing you do not take it serious. I would like to see if we could go back to when we can get people who would run the refineries internationally, negotiate with them to put our refineries back in order, employ our boys and at a certain period we will privatise. They can have 45 percent and the government can have its stake and the percentage that remains would be sold to Nigerians.

Do you think that the ongoing National Conference will resolve Nigeria’s lingering constitutional quagmire and remove the impediments to the harmonious development of a truly united nation?  

Well, you never write off anything. Suddenly they may wake up, work hard and give us something useful. But whatever it is, what I would like to see for Nigeria is a modification of our presidential system to adopt more or less the French system where you have a president elected on national franchise but introduce elements of the parliamentary system whereby the prime minister and the ministers can be removed by a vote of no confidence, so they are obliged to be in parliament and lead the debate on national issues. Under the parliamentary system every morning there are questions for the minister of health, why is it that the hospital has no maternity ward? You will answer, when you plan to put it. So, from day to day, government is being forced to respond to the wishes of the people. Secondly, I think we must re-introduce the possibility of an independent candidate vying for election because what has happened is that it is only through the political parties that you can be a candidate and  when they want to contest, the party will ask them to pay about N10 million  as nomination fee. So when they get to office the first thing is to recoup the N10 million. It doesn’t help us and we spend so much to vie for election. So, I would like to see the introduction of independent candidates and the adoption of the French model of presidential system. I would also like it to be worked into the constitution that we go back to a more career-based diplomacy. The idea that when politicians lose elections, they are nominated as ambassadors is not good. Even under the First Republic when Balewa was there we had career diplomats who were selected and trained as ambassadors. That is what the British have and the Americans that used to have non-career diplomats now have fewer, so where are we going? If majority of your ambassadors are people who never thought of embassy, then you have to support them heavily with deputy ambassadors and all other ambassadors who are career people. Meanwhile you have done great harm to the ambition and hope of the people recruited as career diplomats.

What is your assessment of Jonathan’s administration?

No doubt he means well but we have not made progress as we should. Probably he is handicapped by those who immediately surround him as his advisers. But I would like to see the implementation plan for the Vision 2020. I have always said that he probably has to call the nation to order to embrace good governance. This may look like a personal sacrifice but in the end it will be historically glorious to say we must go back to good governance, rule of law, sanctity of contracts, zero tolerance for corruption, and prompt sanctions for those who are convicted of corruption including seizure of properties, emphasis on merit and productivity as core national values, re-engineering of political parties to be issues oriented and in fact they should tell us the best way to implement Vision 2020. We have lost great opportunities in the past but it is never too late for a country to do a forward match. What this requires is hard work by a committed leadership and not by magic.

During the Nigerian civil war you opted to be on the side of the federal authorities rather than working with your fellow Igbos in the defunct Republic of Biafra. What informed your decision?

You see, as I told you I was brought when the vista was Renaissance Africa. I do not believe that the black man should continue to be an inferior specie and that only the white and yellow people can construct great countries. Whatever the provocation, secession from Nigeria is to go against that principle of mine. When Ojukwu was first appointed the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, he wanted me to come and be secretary to the region and I said I am not a regional man and I nominated one or two persons for him. He told me oh no, in  a few months we will abolish the regions because he had this military mind  and  I simply told him that by the time you live with a people and participate in their hopes and dreams, you are a different person. I didn’t even know things will go the way they went so badly. Even my brother, Sidney Asiodu, the Olympic athlete was killed.  Unfortunately, he was teaching in Warri, the Biafrans came and told him to close the school, he went to Asaba and he didn’t think that civilians will be killed but he was killed.

On July 29, I had fixed a meeting in Enugu for August 1, not knowing there was a coup. I was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry and the meeting was for Nkalagu Cement Company because I was a director; Ojukwu’s father was the chairman.  When I arrived Enugu, they were surprised to see me. One of them said how did you come? I said through Nigeria Airways and he asked did you come through Ikeja? I said yes. The idea was that anybody who came through Ikeja would be killed. I was to go back in two days time but Ojukwu kept me for about two weeks. I had fixed a party in Lagos thinking that I will just be in the east for two days and go back. That day I had to insist I will go and he made me miss my flight. I went by road and as I was reaching my house at midnight the last guests were leaving. My poor wife had to receive them.

And during the weeks that followed a lot of things were happening. After the counter coup, Igbos were mutilated, killed and most Igbos flee and were coming to the East.  But as Ojukwu confessed to me, the police in Enugu had only about 100 rifles. Can you imagine them fighting about 1,400 troops with automatic weapons? They would have massacred more than the people killed in the north. So that was the situation then and when I talked with Ojukwu, 1 saw that he already had this funny idea about Biafra.  But as a federal permanent secretary of Nigeria, I swore to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria. I have never believed that the Africans should be condemned to many states. When you talk about Europe, you talk about Britain, Germany, France, etc and then you talk about Latin America, you think of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, etc. My loyalty is more racial than tribal. We speak because we don’t have a sense of history. The expert linguists have established that Edo, Igbo and Yoruba spoke the same language up to 5000 years ago when they started diverging, and you know most human beings were produced in the Rift Valley of East Africa from where they spread and you spread according to tolerable routes in those days when there was forest everywhere. Many of us here, like the Hausa came from Numbia. That is how life is. The latest arrivals to Nigeria were the Tivs. They are Zulus and when they dance they dance like the Zulus. Now the point is that Igbo, Yoruba and Edo started diverging 5000 years ago. The Kanuri man, the Itsekiri man and the Ijebu man are about the same people that migrated but when you migrate and you go to one part of the forest and for two generations you don’t meet, your languages change and all that. If you go to Jos Plateau, you have the Angas, a minority group where General Gowon comes from. When you cross to another valley it is a different language, so if they say there are 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, 100 will be in that area. I am justifying my racial preferences. And by the time Nigerians meet abroad in those days and even now don’t they unite as one? It is only now that we are talking about Igbo in Diaspora, Ekiti in Diaspora. In my days in Oxford we refused to have a Nigerian union.  We had the West African Union, there was a Nigerian Union in the rest of Britain but in Oxford we didn’t have a Nigerian union. We were in the West Africa Society.

So, where do you think Ojukwu got it wrong in his declaration of Biafra in 1967?

Ojukwu didn’t get it wrong entirely on his own because when the crisis was escalating towards succession, which we thought would be very unwise, we tried to have a dialogue with him. A few of us flew to Enugu to see Ojukwu — Alison Ayida; the late Aliu Martins; myself; and Abdulaziz, an Oxford graduate, who served in the East. We went to ask Ojukwu what he wanted so that we could prepare the ground for a meaningful conference with the federal government, where every side would table their issues. Our plan was that after discussing with Ojukwu, we would go back to Lagos, sell those ideas to Gowon, and see if we could reach an agreement. After going up and down and delaying us till dark, he started warming up to tell us what he wanted, but C. C. Mojekwu, who wasn’t a very rational person, came and broke up the meeting. He destroyed that last chance, and we flew back empty handed. But the crisis continued, and who were those around Ojukwu? Did they understand what war is all about? War is a serious matter. You are going to war, but how many riffles did you have? Before they went to war, 12 states had been created by Gowon; it was two days later that he declared secession and then it escalated. Once Rivers State and South-Eastern State were created from the Eastern Nigeria, how did Biafrans think they would have their unconditional loyalty? Biafrans wanted to depend on oil export from Bonny channel and so the first thing the federal government would do, even if it was incompetent, was to proclaim a blockade and if it does, no oil tanker would want to risk NNS Nigeria firing into it. But one of my former permanent secretaries opened his mouth and said nobody can blockade us and Ojukwu himself in his war propaganda said no power in black Africa can overcome us.  With what?  Hundred rifles? In the then Nigerian Army, the Igbos were the officers and technical support, the Yoruba  were the technical support but the people carrying guns and shooting  were not even Hausa but the Tiv, Idoma and Jukun. So this was the composition and the counter coup was carried out by the Middle Belt people — Danjuma, Muritala, but even Muritala’s father was from Agenebode (Edo State).

So, we were quite worried by the turn of events. We even sent a  letter to Ojukwu written from my house, drafted by me  and signed by two of us who were with  him  in Oxford trying to advise him against taking the fatal step of seceding because we believed if he did, it would lead to war. And in a war situation, except you are immediately recognized by a greater power, there is no future. We told him that even if it is a cockroach that is in charge in Lagos, it is the federal government and except you displace it, there can be no headway. We sent the letter through Gogo Nzeribe, a great Nigerian who was also an old boy of King’s College. Ojukwu told him it was too late.  He showed him some funny pieces of paper he called currency, and a flag with the rising sun logo. So, he had some people around him who for the two weeks I was with him, were asking him to declare Biafra. But I said declare what? Here is a garrison with 1, 4000 armed people, and you have a few policemen.

How would you describe the man Ojukwu?

He was a very good friend and a colourful person. We nearly died together. This was in the winter of 1954 when we overstayed in London by one day. He had a convertible sports car, and we were driving back home and unknown to us snow had covered the road from Woodstock, about eight miles from Oxford. Luckily, at that time it has become dual carriage way, so the trees were a bit apart. Until 1960, there were no motorable routes in England or anywhere in Europe except Germany. You just had roads with trees here and there. The car skidded and it travelled for about 200 metres before it was controlled. If it was on a narrower road, we would have hit the trees and we won’t be here.  So, that was how close we were. We are very good friends. There was one Dr Kalu, a medical doctor from the east and Dr Jaja; we were all colleagues.  As I said earlier, Ojukwu and I are very close and we were ever willing to assist one another. Take for example an incidence in London. I am short but Ojukwu was 5 feet 11 and huge, but to a white man, black is black.  It happened that Kalu had a car with a learner’s permit and one day, accompanied by some ladies who were nurses, we went for a dance. As we were about dropping the ladies off in the hospital after the dance, a policeman accosted us. The car was over loaded. It was meant for four, but I think we were seven. The policeman asked: “You are a learner; are you supposed to carry passengers?” So, I replied I was the teacher and he asked: “Where is your car licence.” Of course, I didn’t know how to drive and I had no driver’s licence. But you are allowed within 24 hours to show produce your licence. So, I said it was in the college. He asked me of my name, and I said Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. He asked me to bring the licence in the morning of the next day and he let us off.  I had to go to Ojukwu to beg him to take his licence there, which he did to save us from prosecution. Ojukwu left us in King’s College in Class 3 for Epsom. When he came back, I visited him.  We were together even when he got married. So, we were very good friends at that point in time. We used to talk about one Nigeria. When he was sent to Enugu, I went there to explain why I couldn’t work there. When he was in the Supreme Military Council, I used to advise him on certain things. As at the time he decided to secede, I didn’t have much communication with him until he got his pardon and came back. After that, there was nothing to bring us close.

Do you think that Nigerian leaders have learnt their lessons from what happened during the civil war, and what do you suggest should be the best way to address the problems of leadership, ethnicity and corruption which have stunted growth?

Frankly, I don’t know how many of our present politicians are conversant with the post-independence crisis that led ultimately to the January 1966 coup because if they did, they would definitely not continue to behave as if things are still basically right in Nigeria. Things are fundamentally flawed. We are in a national crisis and I wish they would spend a little more time thinking of what is likely to happen if we continue this way. If they take time out to reflect, they would realize that it is not sustainable. We cannot continue to have a situation   where the vast majority of the people are increasingly poor and insecurity is rising.  Something must be urgently done to arrest the insecurity that is spreading in North East before it deteriorates. I wish there could be non-partisan and very serious consultations over this matter before it got out of hand. It said good things do not happen in Nigeria, likewise the worse, so it must be business as usual; but that will be living in a fool’s paradise. History does not always repeat itself. I believe we are in a very deep crisis. The National Conference gives an opportunity to do one or two things we have talked about, but more serious is for them to sit back and say we can’t pursue politics the way we are. Given the escalating crisis in the country, I would want our politicians to learn to play politics by to the rules and give selfless service to the people. They must provide good leadership and good governance. I don’t think we have the luxury of just carrying on like this.

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