Posted by Pamela Eboh | 10 January 2020 | 1,011 times
Harvard-trained Economist and first civilian governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, has described President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration as hostile to the Igbo.
Ezeife, who holds the traditional title – Okwadike Igboukwu – spoke in an interview with our Senior Correspondent in Awka, PAMELA EBOH, regretted the many humiliations notable Igbo businessmen had been subjected to in an effort to pull them down. He called for equity and fairness as a yardstick during the 2023 presidential election and, in so doing, give South-easterners a chance at presidency. The 81-year-old elder statesman also talked about the forthcoming governorship polls in Anambra State, and urged political parties in the state to respect a standing agreement.
The North is believed to be scheming to hold on to power come 2023. In fact, a notable governor is being touted to be the chosen one to take over from President Buhari. Do you think the North is ready for a power-shift to the South-East?
Well, fairness is fairness, justice is justice. The three largest tribes in Nigeria are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. No Igbo man has been elected president of Nigeria. Yoruba man has, Hausa-Fulani man and, even a minority from the South-south has also been elected president. The North has been dominating the leadership of Nigeria and the West has had a fair share: up to eleven years, that is if you add the military and the civilian administration of Obasanjo. If we are still citizens if Nigeria with equal rights, it makes sense for the South-east to assume that they automatically should succeed President Buhari, not even 2023 but any time he leaves. The South-easterners are determined. Somehow, the Buhari government has been pushing the Igbo out of Nigeria, as if they don’t want us here; and the young men, IPOB, are reacting to this push from government. The older Nigerians have not joined IPOB in their push because of their conservatism and the attraction of the large market in Nigeria and the hope that if Nigeria is restructured and returned to the structure that worked: when the World Bank said some parts of Nigeria was growing faster than the rest. If restructuring is possible and fast coming, the older Igbo are not anxious to leave Nigeria. Personally, I wrote a paper some time ago praising the permanence of one Nigeria, including the economies of scale and all kinds of factors that make one Nigeria more important.
Can you elaborate further on what you mean by Buhari pushing Igbo out of Nigeria?
I am not even sure it’s only Buhari, because every effort to pull Igbo down started long before Buhari. Instances abound. Jim Nwobodo had Savanah Bank, and it was closed down by the Federal Government. But from Buhari’s administration, it became too much. Ibeto was among the biggest cement importers in Nigeria; for some reasons, the Federal Government pulled him down. Now, he is getting back, but he can never measure up to the likes of Dangote. That's not all, Ifeanyi Uba (Capital Oil) was the person who made Nigerians get petrol during the scarcity because Capital Oil had more than 30 per cent of the capacity. He pumped petrol out when his colleagues refused and eventually, we got petrol. Capital Oil was owed heavy money by NNPC. Somehow, the government of Nigeria alleged something against Capital Oil, and detained him: first for two weeks, set him free; then picked him again. Everything is being done to pull Igbo down. There is one man who is doing what one man can do alone and that is INNOSON. He has built automobile industry, building cars. One of the latest one is a jeep called Ikenga. You know what Ikenga means in Igbo land.
INNOSON was arrested in pants by EFCC and taken to Abuja for whatever, we don't know. What we do know is that the Supreme Court has decided the case between INNOSON and GT Bank and the decision was in favour of INNOSON with heavy billions of naira to be paid to him. But that was the man Federal Government wanted to pull down. Then you may be aware of EMZOR Pharmaceuticals. They were said to be producing codeine: This drug had been in this country before I was born and I am 81-years-old. It was alleged that the northern youths were sniffing codeine and for that, EMZOR Pharmaceuticals was closed down for some time, and re-opened eventually. Indeed, the Federal Government of Buhari seems to have decided to pull Igbo down, PID. Allen Onyema, at the height of xenophobia decided to go and air lift Nigerians in South Africa with his own plane, Air Peace, and we were all praising him. Then, suddenly, the US raised some points we don't understand and Nigeria jumped on it with the humiliating act of seizing his international passport. Humiliation in the extreme! Yet, as we are now beginning to learn, things are not as bad and he is not known to have done something definitely wrong. We are known to be traders, it's our major occupation. Our people will import, and Customs will seize the containers and auction the containers to other Nigerians who are not Igbo. A group of Igbo importers came to me, pleading with me to go and plead their case with the Customs, saying that they are ready to buy back their containers; instead of them importing and it will be auctioned to other people and they will go to them to buy it.
So, in business, it is as if they want us out. Then look at employment. If there is a list of people being laid off, especially the military, Igbo tops. Since Buhari came on board, he has been knocking down on the military. If you take a list of those being laid off, the Igbo are most dominant, followed closely by South-South. The most recent one is the same. If it is new appointment, if you make a list people who are newly appointed, Igbo people are absent. Recently, there was an appointment of 27 judiciary staff; the list had two people from the South, two from the West, two from the South-South and zero from the South-East. The remaining 23 persons that made the list were from the North. Recently, there was promotion of police commissioners in Nigeria. The North-West had 12, other northern states had high numbers, but not up to twelve. Well, in the case of Igbo people, only one was promoted. Any way you look at it, you will find humiliation, pulling down, marginalisation. The ultimate of the bad thing anybody can do to you is to remove you from the earth, that is, kill you. Our young ones wanted to have a memorial for the people who were killed during the Biafra war. They went to both Owerri and Onitsha to do it. And what happened? They were arrested and killed off. The most surprising one is that some Igbo people were rejoicing in Port Harcourt when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America: they were mowed down, killed. What offence will you call that? Well, you know about Operation Python Dance, our young men were kept in the mud and eventually about 97 of them were killed. You can imagine that type of humiliation. You look at your people; they are in the mud, swallowing it. Everything has been done to make our people get out of Nigeria. IPOB is reacting, but we the older ones are praying that God will remember us and cause a change. But, of course, there is something that may be the final push. However, we don’t want it again. We, the South-East will kneel down to the North, West, South-south, Middle Belt – if that is what they want as part of lobbying for the presidency. We will unite ourselves and prune it down and make sure we get people who will work for Nigeria. We will do anything anybody considers necessary for us to get presidency come 2023. But, if at the end of it, because we are Igbo, our own is not elected, we will take it that everybody will know that we have been rejected as citizens of Nigeria. In our tradition, when a person is rejected, he does not reject himself. One rejected does not reject himself; that would be the final push. It doesn’t matter if we are old or young, we will react the same way.
Do you think the Igbo at this moment have a political party that is sympathetic to their course for the 2023 presidential ambition?
We want every political party that is serious to pick Igbo man as their flag-bearer for presidency. That is the way it is done. Like the Obasanjo, Olu Falae era.
Do you think the adoption of an Igbo candidate is possible for the two major political parties, PDP and APC when the Igbo are not dominantly positioned in both parties, especially the party at the centre?
We expect them to adopt a south-easterner as a candidate come 2023, knowing that the candidate would be elected. We expect them to consider justice, fairness and equity. We are not going to impose any candidate on them. We believe that we will not have that kind of problem. In fact, some youths from the north came here on December 1, 2019. They came from Kano, and they told me that they are organising for other youths to support Igbo for presidency. Some old men like Balarabe Musa are saying the same thing. Afenifere has come out to declare same support for Igbo presidency. Edwin Clark has been shouting from roof-top that if we want Nigeria to be stable and progress, Igbo should be allowed their turn. Babangida and the rest of them too!
As long as the government continues to keep Igbo down politically, Nigeria will continue to remain down politically, economically and so on. I believe it is time for Nigeria to make progress. Look at the Igbo, anywhere they go, they make progress. They have devoted their feet for one Nigeria and anywhere they go, they progress. Igbo people want their children to be bigger than them. We don’t want a place or mind for people to stay and remain poor, we don't have such place. We don’t want talakawa and the issue of talakawa will disappear with Igbo leadership in Nigeria. We don’t want the issue of almajiri; we will build and equip schools and everybody will go to school. Nigeria will be better off, because of our egalitarianism. God gave us egalitarianism and we are promoting it. Some of the problems we have is that people have learnt trade from us and they want us to go so they can monopolise the space. But if we come on board, it will not be about trading, we will ensure that education for all is number one and with education, there’s nowhere the country cannot go. We believe that good reason will prevail in the West among the Youruba, in the North, among the Hausa-Fulani, in the Middle-Belt, the South-South. With good reason, president of Igbo extraction will emerge. Good reason of fairness, justice and equity.
Per adventure this good reasoning fails to play out come 2023, are Igbo elders going to join forces with IPOB to call for a pull-out from Nigeria?
In such a case, IPOB will join forces with the elders to move to an Igbo country, whatever it may be called.
In 2021, there will be another governorship election to herald a change in the leadership of Anambra State. The state government has announced that power will shift from the North to the South. Being a father of Anambra South since the death of Alex Ekwueme, are you not worried about factions springing up in the South various political blocks, such as Ihiala, Nnewi and Old Aguata Union (OAU)? Don’t you think it will impede on the zone having a consensus candidate?
Why should I be worried? There’s an agreement that the next governor should come from Anambra South. If there is no agreement to that effect, then I should be worried. All we are saying is, please keep the agreement, whether you are from the Central or North. So, we have no problem – Nnewi is in the South, Ihiala is South, as well as OAU. So, anybody that eventually emerges will be from the South. All we are saying is, let everybody respect the agreement that the next governor will come from the South, and not from any other zone.
A lot of people believe that this agreement may not be honoured. Even your good self as a father of this zone is re-echoing this fear. Don’t you think that this may send ominous signs that powers-that-be may fail in this promise?
Well, we don’t believe it will. Let me tell you what you need to know. We are lucky that Peter Obi pushed for zoning to the North. So far, I was the first elected governor of the state. I went to work for the state as a whole without any special attention to the South. After my tenure, which was one year and ten months, the military returned and served for many years. When the military left, the South returned again with (Dr Chinwoke) Mbadinuju from Ihiala, and he served for four years. That makes it five years plus for the South. Ngige came on board and stayed for three years. Peter Obi came and not only served out the remaining tenure of Ngige, he served for eight years. That makes it a total of eleven years that Anambra Central served. Then you come to the North, Obiano is about to serve out his eight-year tenure.
So, equity demands that the South should be given another chance. Recently, I gave a lecture in Awka titled, ‘The Rigid rotation of office of Governor by senatorial zones’. That made the return of Obiano very easy. Now, 11 years for the Central, five and half years for the South and eight years for the North, fairness should play a role here. There is a group known as Equity Movement: That is, taking leadership in turns so. I think very soon, we will begin to meet with people from the Central and appeal to them to let equity reign. When Ezeife was governor, he was governor for the entire Anambra State, same with when Mbadinuju was there. It wasn't governor for a particular zone but, the trend has changed. If you go to Agulu now, there are no more foot-paths, the roads are all tarred and we hear that Obiano is doing very well too for the North. Not just in building roads and infrastructure but employment wise. I will recommend to the southern person who will take over to pay attention to the south, but not to make it dominant. As a leader, it is important to know that you are working for the state, not just the zone. Based on all this, the South should be allowed to produce the next governor of the state.
After the meeting you convened in your house here, another one was held in Awka led by Prof Orajiaka: Don’t you think the OAU is already beginning to speak in discordant tunes?
No, we are not speaking in discordant tones. Let me tell you what happened. I learnt that many people did not attend the OAU meeting, because the principal dramatis personae there was APGA and those who were not in APGA felt marginalised. On the day I held a meeting here, 1st December, the same group that held meeting in Awka also came. I had heard the rumour and made phone calls. In the meeting, I discovered that there was a yearning for unity. That is, a situation where no party will play a dominant role in OAU. It was rather too late for them to cancel the other meeting they had. Some necessary steps have been taken to unite the two groups. It was agreed that me and the former deputy governor, Sibudu, should integrate the two groups.
How far has this integration gone?
It has not gone any far because I have been too busy with Igbo affairs; but now, I want to start looking into the issue. I want you to disabuse your mind that there is a problem in OAU. There is no problem with OAU. The agreement is total that OAU is one and must remain one. Any time we have another meeting it would be all parties under one roof.
Won’t you have a problem of choice in a situation where two candidates from OAU emerge from two different parties and another one from, maybe, Nnewi axis?
As long as it is from the South, we will make do with whoever it is; but we are not going to pick just anybody because of zoning. The person has to be very sound and competent. Anambra South can supply governorship candidate to all the states of Nigeria, and they would be the most competent people. We are not worried whether it is from OAU, Ihiala or from Nnewi. We are going to have very competent hands and we will resolve any problem that may arise internally.
When you contested for the governorship seat, religious politics was absent, but that’s not the case now. What do you have to say about the recent meddlesomeness of the clergy in the state: Is it not time for the elders to speak to them to stop?
No, it is not the clergymen that are playing politics. It is the people. Let me tell you a story. When I was preparing for the governorship election of Anambra State, leaders of the Roman Catholic people came to me and said that they don’t want to oppose me at all; but I should look and see that they have never produced a governor in the state; and it was a fact. They asked me to help them. But I told them that they don’t need my help because, first, they have the number (population) in the state. All they needed was planning. I told them to go home and think about it; and since then the story changed. But now, we have a serious problem. We, as the people of Anambra State, must avoid anything that would make us not to grow fastest. The dynamics: Today, I don't know who is in the majority between the Catholic and the Protestant. But, as you know, progressively, Protestants will become dominant because of the pattern of growth, with all this Pentecostals springing up. It’s not a matter of Catholic and Anglican but a matter of the Catholic and all the Protestants. In a few years time, the Protestants will be so dominant that with a little organising, they will monopolise leadership, and it will not be good for our state. Nobody should be shut out of governance; everybody should have access to it. No Roman Catholic with good sense of reasoning will want to encourage Catholic dominance in the leadership of the state for now. It’s better to think of a way forward and think ahead so that we don’t end up in a situation where we have a fantastic Roman Catholic and end up with an incompetent Protestant, just because we want a Protestant leader.
What is your take on the recent call by the Federal Government for nationals of other African countries to come into Nigeria without visa?
When I heard it, l was both surprised and mad. First, does Buhari have the right as a President to say that people can come into Nigeria without visa? I don’t think he has such right. What bothers me is what I see in messages. I read that ‘Federal Government goes ahead with ‘no visa’ against the suggestion of the Senate. This is an impeachable offence. If one man-President is running the whole country with impunity, this makes impunity the norm in Nigeria. We have reached the final level of stupidity. Take the issue at hand; it is the North Africans that are being asked to come. It is the Fulani from everywhere. Meanwhile, we have problems with them already. I am appealing to Miyetti Allah members who are my friends; I am also appealing to the Fulani to see their own long-term interest in not antagonising every other group in Nigeria. I want all Nigerians, irrespective of zone or affiliation to live in peace. This call for free visa is a kind of recipe for war. Many people see it as a preparation for islamisation war in Nigeria. I appeal to Mr President to back away from such idea. It’s very bad. The visa issue is worse than the Ruga issue; worse than all other mistakes made by this government. The visa issue is calling for war and, indirectly, telling the people that they don’t know anything, and will sit there and watch them take over.
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