By Chidi Obineche
Former Anambra state governor, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife has accused ailing Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari of coming into office with the mission of “pushing the Igbo ethnic group “out of Nigeria insisting that if the onslaughts continue “Igbo must go”. He speaks on the basis for one Nigeria, which he says must be based on a framework of restructuring. The former federal permanent secretary reviews the 2015 presidential elections saying that ex- president Goodluck Jonathan, knew about the plot to rig him out months before the election, but that he would have returned as president if he wanted. He speaks on his ordeal in the hands of Buhari, alleging that a grand plot to frame him up and silence him was at the last minute stopped by the president. He speaks more on other national issues in this interview with Sunday Sun at his Abuja home.
You just released a small pamphlet entitled ‘Nigeria: The basis of Unity’, do you specifically see any basis for one Nigeria?
There is a basis for one Nigeria, if Nigeria is restructured and justice is made to prevail, no group in Nigeria can under any circumstances consider moving out of Nigeria. There are many reasons for that, but the basic reason is economic, something we call economics of scale. And what does that mean? With larger output you may be getting lower prices up to a point. And then, you have one market. You produce in Sokoto and sell in Calabar, Kano, Lagos. So I started by defining that the welfare of the people is the decision criterion. The welfare of the people should be the guiding principle for what is good and what is important for the country. So, the production of goods and services are basic for the welfare of the people. And this is cheaper in the larger geographical area than in a smaller one. Either Nigeria is properly structured for the people to take care of their affairs including their internal security on a smaller scale of production or there will be ill will.
In other words, the agitations and secession threats by IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) is misplaced?
No. Ok , let me go to the beginning. IPOB is Igbo. MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra) is Igbo. Igbo captives committed most suicides during the slave trade. Why? because we say Eji ndu eme gini? (Life without honour is not worth living). The way we are in Nigeria today, especially under Buhari is useless. At the start of his government, he employed more than 40 people without a single South easterner. He denied South-east of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the lowest of the six positions that are critically important. He sacked Igbo people and other southerners from the military, Customs. He killed our people for no just cause in Aba, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Asaba. The Port Harcourt bloodletting is the one that drives me crazy. I don’t know what to make of that one. Because some boys were rejoicing that Trump won in America you massacred them. How does it concern Nigeria’s security and they came and slaughtered them in their numbers. What that says is that our position in Nigeria is reaching the point of eji ndu eme gini? therefore we may consider quitting. My own submission is that Biafra becomes inevitable if this injustices- marginalization, inequity, all forms of bad things being done to the South- east, if they continue beyond Buhari, then we must not keep hanging in for any reason. Remember IPOB was not there during Obasanjo’s regime, it was not there during Yar’Adua’s time, it was not there during Jonathan’s tenure as president. But because Buhari came with his Islamization agenda and a decision to push the South-east out of Nigeria if we react, our reaction is where we are going, and we must go if things continue the way they are. But not all of us believe that things will continue like this. Why do we believe that things must change when every day we are confronted with more reasons why our stay here is injurious? Even people who never thought about us are now getting conscious of the inhumanity of our continued stay and are changing their opinions. They are now talking about giving the Igbo the presidency. Today, Igbo are a great majority in Nigeria. We are pushing for restructuring, so are the Yoruba, South-south, middle belt. So, four zones are talking about restructuring. Even among people of the North-east, many are asking for restructuring. Some in the North-west are also asking for restructuring. So, it is a matter of understanding where you are going. Those who say Biafra outright is better than restructuring, I doubt they are right. If you are waiting for something and you don’t get it, Biafra becomes an option.
What would you think is responsible for the reluctance of some segments of the society that are opposed to restructuring?
What is restructuring? Ultimately, restructuring is going back to what we know; what was agreed- a federal system of government with regions. And what has happened? We had four regions – the North, the East, the West and the Midwest. Three regions in the South, one in the North. As we started the civil war, the military worked out a strategy for winning the war and created as a result 12 states. The northern military leaders also created even more states. Now, we have 36 states. And how did they create them? Today, we have 19 states in the north, 17 in the south. And sometimes Abuja is treated as if it were a state making it 20 states in the north. Even the number of states, is also important. South-east has five states, North-west has seven. Then, you come down to the number of local governments. Where are the 774 local governments? They are mostly in the North. Look at Lagos State with a very massive population with only 20 local governments while Kano has 64 local governments. That is the issue. Bayelsa has only eight local government states and that is where oil is. Funding is from the center go to the local governments. Since they have dominance of states, dominance of local governments and if they agree to restructuring and say Ndigbo stay in your place, Yoruba stay in your place and we adopt fiscal federalism they think they will lose. Income, revenue that is the myopic reason some of the northern people are talking against restructuring. It is known to most people including Sanusi the Emir of Kano that the North loses most with the breakup of Nigeria. What is the literacy level in the North? And when did education become second to anything in development? So, even right now, what can they boast of? Tomato is alright. Yes. We are not seeing the groundnut pyramids again. But it is not what they are using to build the North.
So they are not contributing anything to the national pool?
There is nothing they are contributing to the national revenue today. But they are taking more than those who are contributing. They have nothing. But they are not contributing to Nigeria because food is not enough. That is why I am a Nigerian because I can see the potentials of things being much better with better organization, better structuring, and justice being allowed to prevail. Those who want Biafra now, now are right. But the best thing that has happened is IPOB and the way it is going about Biafra. IPOB mission involves referendum. We will just vote like the people in Canada, Yugoslavia, Britain, and Scottish even northern Cameroun. Even southern Cameroun people are now saying they are Biafra now. So for me, I do not quarrel with anybody who is saying Biafra now, now, now. After delaying we will still get it. But I know that if we get restructuring it will be superior to Biafra, now, now. I am not complaining because of the war experience. During the Biafra- Nigeria war we committed all kinds of ‘Ibenne’ abuse but at the end of the war people just picked up their briefcases and walked away and would not come back unless if they make enough money to come and bamboozle the people at home to show them that they have arrived with money. With IPOB, there is no need for cleavages, no need for divisions. Since there will be an opportunity of saying your own views. But people must remember that some of us have roots outside. I don’t have any. This is my compound. Finished.
You like the vision of IPOB. What about the leadership as represented by Nnamdi Kanu?
That is the effective leadership they have. I don’t know Nnamdi Kanu very well. But if a person can say my life means nothing to me and he puts everything into whatever thing he is championing, that person should be respected and honoured. I would like them to take cognizance of other views. A person saying no structuring does not seem to have full understanding of history or the society of Nigeria.
And what is that understanding of the society of Nigeria?
The history behind it. We were once alone in Biafra. We committed all manner of ‘Ibenne’ atrocities.
What is the recurring ‘Ibenne’ taboo?
Yeah! Our culture does not allow us not to give a sleeping ground to a relation. What happened at the outbreak of the war? Our people will come back and be welcomed home happily by relations. In just two weeks disharmony will set in. That is why we have today, excessive individualism. We used to be individualistic. That is our system. But after the war we became excessively individualistic because some people went out in anger because of what their brothers did to them. No land is given to you to cultivate cassava and they will ask you where you have been all this while. You dare not inquire into certain family assets but when you came back you were celebrated. That will not happen again. We are better with restructuring. With restructuring we control our affairs. We are able to generate power for ourselves; we are deep with ecological problems. We need to take advantage of the land mass of Nigeria and the advantage of being in one space which is the largest concentration of population in Africa. I am emphasizing the economic aspect because that is where the action is. And then the psychic satisfaction of being in one Nigeria. I believe it is not the British imperialism that created Nigeria. I believe that God used the intervention of Britain to create a country which should become big brother and oil point for all blacks on earth. A country which will eventually develop into a super power and raise the dignity and respect of blacks and the African people and ultimately wipe away the shame of slavery from the faces of all blacks. That is Nigeria’s manifest destiny or God’s purpose in creating Nigeria. And we cannot achieve it without being big. Look at Sweden, Norway and all those small countries where the income per head is very big but they are not proper. With Nigeria, because of our population we become a super power easily.
You earlier accused Buhari of accentuating anti Igbo policies. What is in the Igbo person that is reprehensible and provocative?
Go and read Buhari ‘s speeches years ago. About 15 of them are talking about Islamization of Nigeria. He may not even hate the Igbo. I was in his compound. I sat in his parlour and he gave me food. That was about 16 years ago or more when we were trying to make friends politically. Today, Nigeria’s Security Council will meet and no South-easterner is there. There are so many actions of Buhari that are irritating and provocative. Right now, they are sending herdsmen to the East to cause commotion and fight on Islamic front. If you think they are planning Islamization you are a very dull person. They are making great progress with Islamization. Benue State governor said that 12 local governments of theirs have been taken. And the strategy is that they talk to a farmer and ask him to change to Islam. If the person agrees, no problem. If the person doesn’t agree, after some time they will bring cattle to the farm and then gradually they will take over the farm. They will fight you, kill you and what house is left they will move in and build more. Incremental Islamization is already on in Nigeria. Anybody who does not understand it is not thinking fast.
Why blame Buhari? Why not ex president Goodluck Jonathan who had a rare opportunity to change the situation with the 2014 National Conference report but failed to implement it until he was removed?
He had no time within which to implement it. But he did everything including adopting it and taking it to the National Assembly for legislative action. Where you can blame him is that he did not see early enough the need for national confab. And some of us who kept telling him to do it were disappointed that he did not do it early enough. However, a man is not perfect in every direction. Jonathan did a good job. When he came for a meeting in Enugu, I told him that his ministers were sabotaging him on Eastern roads. Enugu to Port Harcourt, Enugu to Onitsha, the two big eastern roads nothing was done on them. I don’t know whether we have right to blame Jonathan for that. In terms of personnel Jonathan brought our people into government and gave them reasonable positions. Why didn’t they use those positions to improve on the lot of the zone?
He also dispensed with them conveniently, people like Stella Oduah, Barth Nnaji
I don’t fully understand that one and I don’t believe it either. What I know is that in terms of personnel, he gave us positions we never had before. He gave us nine positions which we should have used to help our own people. We did not and turned round to blame him. Let me tell you, we had a meeting of South-south, South-east, initially it was South-east, South-south and South-west. When it was purely South-south and South-east, we had to go to Jonathan. I was the spokesman and you know I say things as I see them. We were not very happy with the appeasement strategy, which Jonathan adopted towards the North. He was trying to appease people he cannot appease. The northern people cannot be appeased. You give them one, they want two, you give two they want 10. That is in the nature of man. If you are bringing they will be demanding.
That was one of his undoing? That was why he lost easily?
No. Jonathan is a very good man naturally, an easy going Christian from all indications. He said it with his mouth that his political interest was not worth a drop of anybody’s blood. He knew there were problems but he felt that stopping the problems may create more problems. If he had insisted on winning he would have won. There was no way he didn’t know what was going on. We got the minutes of Northern leaders on how they planned to rig the elections. Eight days to the elections I was with Jonathan. I told him that Jega will not be there to announce him as winner. I discovered later that there were people who had done that three months earlier that Jega cannot use his mouth to pronounce him as winner. Everyone thought he will act. The children who were voting in the North and the distribution of voting cards were in favour of the North. The cards were not available for us in Lagos and the South and the minutes of the northern elders said register everyone in the North whether they are of age or not. When you go to the East be extremely niggardly but not as much as in the West .Niggardly means allow only a few to register. This was written in black and white. Initially we saw it and reviewed it. Eventually we saw it in the field, under aged kids had a field day voting. Even Card Reader rejected President Jonathan. These things were planned in detail. The rigging was carefully planned.
But some people accuse Jonathan of naivety?
It is not naivety. The man didn’t want to lose blood. He knew what was going on. Eventually I got intelligence report from our people in the North that the thing is no longer voting; that it is a matter of infidels versus believers. Adamu Muazu, the PDP national chairman and other people who worked at the top level of the campaign voted against President Jonathan. He saw these things coming and monitored them carefully. That was why it was easy to persuade him to congratulate Buhari even before the final results were counted. It was unafrican and wonderful to have done that. I know I don’t know enough of anybody but I must say that with the video I saw and the close discussions I had with him the man wanted to prevent massacre. Do you know that even in Abuja the equipment for killing were distributed? Killing who? Christians and southerners. I don’t know whether he dreamt about them also and tried to save people’s lives. This is a Christian man, a gentleman and realistic in the extreme.
Ifeanyi Ubah has been arrested by the DSS over some oil deals with the NNPC. Are you okay with the reasons advanced for the arrest?
Unless it is just happenstance it seems to be a co-ordinated effort to ruin the economy of South easterners. Many of the containers owned by South-easterners are seized and taken to IDPs in the North. Most manufacturers and industrialists from the East are in trouble. Ibeto for long has been put aside. Emeka Offor, I don’t think everything is moving well. Look at Innoson, the vehicle manufacturer I don’t think he is getting all the cooperation he needs from the government. And he is the only manufacturer of cars in Nigeria. There seems to be a strangulation policy of South-eastern economic people. DSS invited Ifeanyi Ubah for interview and he honoured the invitation. He was not detained. Then they later came, arrested and detained him. They kept him for so long and eventually released him. A few days ago he was again rearrested and detained. What I am hearing is that NNPC was using his tank farm for storage and they are alleging that some of the products have been sold. Go to court. This is no business of government represented by DSS or EFCC. This is not corruption the type you get EFCC involved in. What I heard is that because he gathered lawyers to go to court that is why they have detained him. This is a case that should go to court. If he had misappropriated oil placed in his care he should answer for it.
President Buhari has been sick for six months now. To what extent has his sickness rubbed off on good governance and what is your advice on what should be done?
This is not an area in which I am strong enough. If somebody is sick I sympathize. Buhari is sick. I pray for his recovery. I have heard all kinds of things. Some people were even saying things unthinkable not deserving of anybody who knows God. But the problem is that when he is not working as president some people are working in his name. Those people have no legitimacy to work except that they are using the powers of the president without authorization. But how do you know it is without authororization? They will say the president gave this directive. If it occurs to the president that because of being unwell and not able to function well he knows what to do. But I don’t want people shouting on him.
You remember during Yar’Adua’s time he was the one that advised him to resign.
Well your brain is younger and fresher than mine. I didn’t remember that he asked Yar’ Adua to resign. If he did , what goes round comes round. He should do what he preached. I was telling some people that if it is the will of God for him to contest in 2019, no man born of woman can stop him. That is where I stand. Buhari should do the right thing. He should not be pushing the South-east out of Nigeria. That is wrong judgment on his part. In fact he has committed many impeachable offences because our constitution provides for federal character but he has flouted it countless times.
Did anybody challenge him?
I was in the media shouting. Instead of correcting it you sent some people after me with some carrots. For a man like me, I don’t care. God is in charge of my life.
Were you intimidated?
They were intimidating me. They came to my house while I was enjoying Christmas in my village. By 11pm I was told that some military people had invaded my house. Another time they came, went upstairs to search, found nothing. I was coming down to meet them but they zoomed off with their siren. Another time, I was to chair an event in Awka and the police and military scattered the thing. Then I came back here and made a hell of noise. One good thing for me was that when they combed my track record from permanent secretary to governor to special adviser to president and found nothing, somebody suggested that they put something on me. Buhari himself shouted and said no, don’t do it. I was very, very happy to hear that. But until he gives the SGF position to the South-east he has not started making amendments. Let someone fault me on anything I have said either on radio, television or print media. If they find one lie from me I am prepared to surrender.
How do you look at the performance of EFCC?
You see, the anti- corruption crusade of Buhari is selective and it is not good . You know those who are corrupt and you are working with them. It is not being pursued effectively. Selective injustice is injustice and selective pursuit of corruption is not war against corruption. Lamido Sanusi made statements that are true. Now, he is being investigated all round because he said the truth. By being selective corruption is being fed.
With deep insight you have how do you see a post 2019 Nigeria?
I stand with the West- Afenifere, Yoruba Unity Forum etc. At the 2014 confab we had Jonathan said without restructuring 2019 election should not hold. I think there should be interim measures. What are we talking about? Go back to agreed Nigeria. Agreed Nigeria is federal. It was four regions but now you can use the six geo-political zones. The 2014 confab attended by critical representatives of diverse groups in Nigeria, that conference attended by the best brains at that time in the country, that conference that reached decisions through consensus and only few voting occurred suggested the creation of 18 new states after a thorough evaluation of what is happening all over the country. With 54 states it becomes compelling to have federal system of government.
Is that the interim measure you are calling for?
That is a solution to our problems but it cannot be implemented by the executive who don’t believe in it. Buhari does not believe, but Atiku believes. Many people from the North- east and North-west believe. The entire South believes. Don’t mind what Osinbajo is saying, I don’t know who told him to say that. I think it was not from his mind. And I forgive him. He said he does not support the way they are talking about restructuring. He cannot be different from all Yoruba people, all the Igbo, all the South-south and he alone is different, all the middle belt and he alone is different. We are going to restructure Nigeria whoever likes it or not. I love this country; I want to be part of it. And nobody who thinks in the long term and who wants justice can certainly walk away from Nigeria, which can be restructured. (The Sun)