The loud disquiet generated in the polity by the perceived lopsidedness in the appointments of President Muhammadu Buhari administration remains unabated, despite the assurance of possible redress in the subsequent selection of other key government functionaries. In this interview, a former governor of the old Anambra State and a respected leader of thought in the Southeast, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, categorically declares that there is nothing Buhari can do to remedy the denial of the Igbo position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation. “What motivated Buhari ‘s attitude to the Southeast, I don’t know. What did we do to deserve comprehensive hatred of the Southeast people”, he asks rhetorically.
The Buhari government is already 100 days old in office. What is your
assessment of the performance of the administration so far?
First of all, there is no government in place. Where are the ministers? If there is a government, there will be ministers. The Federal Executive Council is composed of people from various parts of the country according to the constitution.
And from what they said, the president derives his authority to announce decisions, policies and budget et cetera from the council. But now, there are no ministers. So far, so bad! The president is bent on scattering a nation that has been built over so many years. We cannot clap for him. What am I saying? The constitution provides for what we call federal character. The convention has always been respect for federal character. In one of the interviews conducted before the election, an Aljazeera woman who was the interviewer pointed out to Buhari that there is a suspicion that he does not fully understand or respect the diversity of Nigeria he is intending to rule. Of course, he denied it. But right now, we see. His government is not even Northern government, it is Northwest government. We have six geo-political zones.
Appointments;; announced and unannounced, are dominated by the Northwest. South east has no appointments at all. If SGF position has been denied the people of Southeast, then there can be no remedy at all. What is our President telling people from Southeast? What is our President telling the South as a whole? Sometimes ago, he was accused of having Northern agenda, he denied it.
Today, no soul can have sympathy for Buhari’s denial of Northern agenda because it is all over the place. He promised to fight corruption and we support him for saying so. Meanwhile, we are not fighting it yet, we are just talking about it, and randomly picking up people. Already a committee has been set up for that, we are yet to see the war being fought.
Power is the main thing in this country. I don’t see what is going on in the power sector. Nigeria has a problem of high cost of production. We cannot compete in the global economy with
China. What we need to do is to use what we have petroleum- to increase our competitive position in the world economy. We as a people need to look at economic development as the grund norm;; the real objective of governance in Nigeria. To wipe off the shame of slavery from the faces of every black, we must focus on economic development. We cannot see it. Instead, we are focusing on ethnicity, we are focusing on religion. To focus on the economy, in addition to using petroleum products to encourage development, we also have to look away from one trade centre organization and look at how we can protect our economy from unreasonable competition. There should be a protection duty on anything imported.
For various sectors, we must develop sectoral and product protection duties. Fly over Nigeria, you Will find massive land lying fallow, while millions of youths are lying unemployed. Agriculture can partly transform our problem. Brazilian people are looking for land in Enugu to produce pineapple which they intend to fly to Europe because when them six hours to get to Europe. I am told they already got land. Why can’t we copy from them?
We have potentials in agricultural development and we have processing agricultural inputs. We need a vocal point;; we need somebody who will be deciding on economic activities of national development. Buhari said some nice things at the beginning, but we haven’t seen them in action. He said: “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody.”
He belongs to Northwest.
You spoke about the renewed anticorruption war of the administration. Are you saying that the war is selective war or that it is against a particular ethnic group?
No, I am not implying any ethnicity in the war against corruption. I am saying that we are hearing of war but we are not seeing it being fought.
We hear of the war on the pages of newspapers, we have not seen it being fought. Some people say government should get stolen money from anybody found wanting and throw him to prison.
For me, we only need to get the money back and use it for welfare. And we can sustain welfare for ever. We can also use part of it for power. Some people who deserve state support will be given state support. This is a humane country. So, I am not saying the war is against any particular individual but the war is not being fought. We hear of the war on the pages of newspapers, we have not seen it being fought.
Then, what do you expect the government to do to strengthen the anticorruption war?
First of all, I think there is a need for structural change. EFCC is there, ICPC is there. There are also
they accuse the people they are policing. There is a need for a new beginning in the anti-corruption war, first from the president. In doing so, he will say to everybody he is employing, ‘do as you see me do. How much money did I collect from you in employing you? If I did not collect money from you, don’t collect from anybody or else I deal with you ruthlessly. Then, he must clean himself up. It is not just enough to say that Buhari is not corrupt; he must ensure that people around him are also not corrupt. That way, he can easily get support of people. When I was governor, I asked people who became commissioners: If you know how much money I collected from you to make you commissioner, go ahead and collect money from people. But if you know I didn’t collect any money from you, and you are collecting from people, if I catch you, I deal with you ruthlessly. And that helped me a lot. I don’t know how much I can say about the personality of Buhari because if you delegate and you don’t supervise, whatever is wrong will be attributed to you. We all support him on the corruption issue. But we are saying, corruption has no time limit. Stolen money has no time limit. Anybody who has abused his office, we should approach him, leave five percent of the loot for his survival and take the rest. And he doesn’t have to go to prison. Anything happening from this warning will then be treated differently.
Anybody caught from now on can be imprisoned. He can even pass a law saying that corruption is anti-developmental and all anti-developmental issues will be treated by death penalty. He can do that for future activities. But for the past, get the money back to the nation and leave the person. He needs people who can do it. How many people can do it? When you ask some people to go and fight corruption and they see somebody who stole N5 billion, they will take N1 billion from him and give him a clean bill of health. This is the tough assignment he has, but he hasn’t started it.
The most damnable thing is that there is no government in place. A dictatorship is being run and it is an impeachable offence. How can an elected president be a dictator running government for three months and decide things alone. That is a military dictator. There is even no minister of finance.
He said he is buying time to study individuals who are going to make his cabinet so that nobody will be found wanting in any way at the end of the day. Is anything wrong in that?
It is a lie fabricated by the government. You can sit here and look for whom to engage in Sokoto. It is not difficult to get competent people from any part of Nigeria. But if you want to decide everything alone, and in the way you like, you can go ahead and do it.
You said not constituting cabinet is an impeachable offence. Is there any timeline in the constitution for the composition of cabinet?
There may be no timeline to anything in the constitution but there are conventions. The day you become president, you name your ministers within one month, not within two months even. Is there any government which did not form cabinet within three months in the past? Are you saying that one man alone can do it? If one man is doing it and we are not seeing the result, don’twe have right to complain?
What is the fate of the South-east in this government?
Junaid Muhammed, the topmost irredentist Northern politician, said to the Southeast: You may secede again, if you like and face the consequence. Buhari told him nothing. This man is one of the top politicians in the Northern hierarchy. He is leading the group that says Buhari is totally correct. They see nothing wrong in his appointments. These are the people whom Iblis is using to spoil Nigeria.
Then, what is the action plan of the Southeast to checkmate this trend?
We are a people of destiny. We do not believe everything is in human hand. God is in heaven looking at affairs of men. We believe in God. We develop every part of Nigeria. Let anybody deny it. The Hausa man said: If you look am place and you no find an Ibo, go away, it is not good for human habitation. Where else have we not developed? We have a saying: You make where you live. That is why you see us developing every part of Nigeria as homes.
By doing so, the local people who see us begin to get jealous. From jealousy, they begin their hatred, and even get to shedding of blood. Some of them say, ‘Let these people go and leave their property for us.’ There are lots and lots more from where we got what we did. It is from God and no man born of a woman can stop us. It is not possible for a man born of a woman to stop us.
We are a people of destiny and nobody; whether that person is called Buhari or Junaid Muhammed can stop us. And we don’t want to stop anybody.
We have started the idea of making our host communities happy with us. This is something we have been promoting for more than two years. We even accused ourselves of not doing well enough with regards to Almajiri. We said; our people when they were sending their children to school should have taken the Almajiris along.
What I am saying is that this country is destined by God and we have the best of everything. You can go out every morning or afternoon. Go and try that in another place; you will die in 30 minutes. We have every resource in Nigeria both human and material to make this country great. God blessed us so much, but short sightedness and lack of proper education is making us think negatively towards each other instead of thinking positively towards each other and positively grow Nigeria. I love Nigerians where ever they come from. Somebody came to me from Katsina State looking for money to pay his school fees at the Ahmadu Bello University. Nobody knows me with money. I made some calls to some of my friends to make contributions to make him go back to school. He has nothing to do with the Southeast. This is what Nigeria should be like.
Every Nigerian gains more from proper development of Nigeria, after all, the amalgamation of North and South protectorates was meant to use resources of the South to cover the deficit of the North. Today, the deficits of the North compared with deficits of the south are wider than in 1914.
Those who know should know that complementality of the people of Nigeria will make for a greater country. The largest concentration of blacks in the world is in Nigeria, and it is God’s purpose that it should be so in order that Nigeria provides the black man with a rallying point. The original sons and daughters of God are blacks. They have nothing inferior to any human race in this world. Most of sciences and technologies came from here. Because we are favourably treated by God, we didn’t have to fight for continuous improvement of the environment we live, that is why we are lagging behind.
We are the original sons and daughters of God, and very soon you will see it happen. Nigeria is beautiful, Nigeria is great. It is ordained of God to be so. Let no man, let not Buhari, let not Junaid Muhammed, let not Northern irredentists kill the design of God. And they can’t, because God is Almighty.
What would you suggest as a way to reunite the already discontented people of this country as a result of the lopsidedness in the appointments of Buhari?
You cannot deny the Southeast Secretary to the Government and you think you can propose a remedy. It is not possible. He’s already crossed the line and going back is impossible.
As it is, no amendment, no remedy is feasible. Of course, human beings can rethink what they are doing. What motivated Buhari ‘s attitude to the Southeast I don’t know. What did we do to deserve comprehensive hatred of the Southeast people? We all must know the importance of Nigeria. Time is of consequence in the comity of nations. Let nobody think of the Islamisation or Christianization of Nigeria because it will not work. We, the Southeast people, have our direction and nobody can change it. They will come to us and say sorry for what we did to you. Let’s be together again. And, of course, we will be together.