Former Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife in this no-holds barred interview x-rays Nigeria’s socio-economic and political development these past 52 years and posits that the component nationalities and other social forces in the country must fix Nigeria this time around or forget about its future. He spoke to OKEY NDIRIBE AND EMMAN OVUAKPORIE in Abuja.
Considering the fact that a man of 52 is generally believed to be a mature person, can you say Nigeria has matured politically, economically and socially?
It is unfortunate that every year we have to make this assessment. It appears that every year we are saying the same thing. However, there is something special about this year. There is a story about the tortoise in Igbo folklore; the tortoise had fallen into a pit latrine. He was there for many days. However, on the very day the tortoise was to be rescued by some people, he began to complain and asked those who had come for the rescue operation to hurry up because the smell of the latrine was too much for him. But he was told to be patient since he had managed to endure the stench inside the pit for so long.
There is a Cape of Good Hope in Nigeria. For the first time in recent history, there is a convergence of views on what needs to be done about Nigeria. There is a consensus on what needs to be done for Nigeria-a country which is nearly always shipwrecked – so that it could become transformed into where things work.
Some eminent politicians held a meeting not too ago in Lagos and their major demand was that a National Conference be held.
Sometime ago, I was invited to Port-Harcourt over the debate on Sovereign National Conference. I was able to convince them that we should not talk about a Sovereign National Conference. This is because, once a Sovereign National Conference is convened, it would have the power to sack both the President and the National Assembly. Indeed, such a conference would have the power to do whatever it likes.
However, if we can have a National Conference, where we reach a consensus on certain issues, its decisions would come into effect after the incumbent government has left office.
One of the major problems we have faced in this country in the past is that some people do not believe in agreements. For instance an agreement was reached at the National Political Reforms Conference held in 2005 that an additional state should be created for the South-east geopolitical zone. About three months ago, the Presidential Committee on Constitutional Reforms also endorsed the same idea with some refinement.
However, a certain Governor from the North was quoted to have said he was opposed to that agreement. The question I want to ask is what is the population of Northern Nigeria?
What is the population of the South? What is the population of Anambra State? What is the population of Kano?
We should allow the sleeping dogs to lie in this country. kicking up old dust is not good.
In 1962, there was a census and what was called preliminary result was announced. The result indicated that the population of the North at that time was 14 .5 million. The population of the Eastern Region was 11.5 million and that of the Western Region was eight million. So, the population of the south at that time was above 19.5 million and higher than that of the north.
Then two young men at that time: Mbazulike Amaechi and RBK Okafor now said that based on the census results, all the southern progressives should join hands together and form the next government. That declaration kicked up a census controversy. The lesson we learnt was from the controversy and its outcome. In the course of the controversy, the population of the North moved up from 14.5 million to 17 million. Then it was moved up again from this to 19 million. It was manipulated again from 19 million to 21 million and finally ended up being hiked to 29 million which was double of the initial figure for the region.
The East remained at 11.5 million while the West remained at eight million but was later raised to 10 million. The increment of the figures for the West arose after the Late Ladoke Akintola , former Premier of Western Region agreed to cooperate with the political party from the North. This is the foundation of all the subsequent census that has been conducted in this country. So when certain people talk about the population of their own part of the country, you begin to wonder whether they really have a sense of history.
Mr Smith, a British colonial officer who conducted an earlier census in 1951 stated that after the exercise, the North was found to have a smaller population than the South. He confessed before he died that the British authorities at that time did not want that census result to stand and therefore ordered a revision which turned the table.
What we are advocating is that there should be equality of zones; these six zones should then become the federating units of the country. Each of the zones should have some autonomy. Any of the zones could create one million states if they like. There is a consensus on this already.
If this arrangement is finally endorsed and captured in a constitution, there would be no need to argue over state police. There would be a middle ground and this could be called zonal police.
There should also be a revenue generation and sharing formula which recognizes fiscal federalism. Under this arrangement, there would be emphasis on the derivation formula as we have always had. We must emphasize national interest. All those who want Nigeria to still remain united do not desire a very weak central government. There should be a fairly strong centre; but nothing like what we have now. Again, we could ask ourselves whether we should continue with a bi-cameral legislature or unicameral arrangement with only the Senate in place? We could even consider having part-time Senators.
This is because what we are seeing in Nigeria is abnormal in the extreme; a developing country which spends about 80 percent of its income on recurrent expenditure, rather than capital expenditure. It is like a farmer who consumes more than what he had harvested; nothing would remain for him to plant in the next planting season.
Very recently, the House of Representatives rejected a bill which sought to recognize the geo-political zones. How do you react to this development at the legislature?
It is beyond the competence of the National Assembly to deal with matters Iike that. The role of the National Assembly should be to repair the cracks on the wall of the House and not that of rebuilding the house. Rebuilding the House is the responsibility of the owners of the house.
It is not for the National Assembly which is part of the structural imbalances we want to correct to dictate the way to go. All the senators and members of House of Representatives emerged from these manipulated constituencies based on doctored election results. Unless some people want this country to disintegrate, we must open our eyes and act fast. We must not use present advantages at all.
Under the present arrangement, the North could kill whatever bill it doesn’t want. We need a National Conference to address Nigeria’s fundamental problems.
Nigeria has been moving along the wrong path; we don’t seem to realize that our country is the largest black nation on earth. We don’t seem to also realize that the black man who was number one in world civilization and development has today become the foot mat of the world. We do not seem to realize the manifest destiny of our country which is to restore the dignity of the black race.
In today’s world you could get military power with economic power. Nigeria is the country in Africa which can become the super power of the black race. Nigeria has a history which could easily appropriate the credit for whatever success we achieve unlike say South Africa. This could only be achieved if Nigeria remains a united country.
But if we cannot restructure, develop and unleash the great potentials everybody has identified in Nigeria; if we continue to remain backward and our peers overtake us, then such a country should cease to exist.
What can you say about the high level of insecurity in the country as has been epitomized by the activities of Boko Haram in the North and other violent groups in other parts of the country?
Insecurity is a common problem in several countries of the world. But when you talk about Boko Haram, it has several dimensions. For instance, those who said they would make the country ungovernable for President Goodluck Jonathan if he won last year’s election have exploited Boko Haram. They had expected that by unleashing violence on the nation, Nigerians would be cowed into submission and ask them to take over power so that there would be peace. There is also the original Boko Haram which wanted to Islamise the entire country. There are also those who are angry about how Nigeria has been governed and the poverty, illiteracy and disease it has led to and the emergence of the almajiris. However, majority of Nigeria’s past leaders responsible for the plight of even the almajiris were from the North. Yet some of them are still talking about power returning to the North in 2015.
I wish to state that those who think that they are punishing the Igbos by keeping them out of power are deceiving themselves. It is Nigeria that needs and Igbo President for this country to move forward. Infact, until Nigeria produces an Igbo man as President, this country is going no where in terms of progress. Igbos are number one agents of development wherever they may be. They are known for transforming their environment.
But some of those opposed to Igbo presidency have said that Igbos are inherently politically unstable. Such persons have cited how other Igbos pulled down various Presidents of the Senate when that office was allocated to the South-East under the PDP zoning arrangement.
It is not true that Igbos are not united. There is no ethnic nationality which would remain out of power for such a long time without being affected politically. Look at how disunited the North has become after remaining out of power for such a short time.