In terms of power politics, this year promises to be action packed. Already, the main actors have been working some political permutations. How these will endure is what most sideline spectators will be looking forward to in the months ahead. It can only get more exciting as the nation inches towards the next general election.
In this interview, a former governor of the old Anambra State and prominent leader of thought in the East, Dr Chukwuemeka Pius Ezeife gives an insight into what to expect in 2015 adding that the trend of Yoruba politics signals danger.
Traditionally, Southwest is known to be an exclusive enclave of the progressives. But now that there is a kind of bridge building between the North and the South with the emergence of All progressives Congress (APC), how do you see the new trend of Yoruba politics?
I am very much familiar with Yoruba politics. But I think this is not Yoruba politics; it’s Tinubu politics and Tinubu is my friend. One would have celebrated the arrival or emergence of a two-party system, but this marriage is not based on ideology like the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) and the predominant element in the marriage is religion. Nigerians should be afraid of radicalizing Yoruba. This is my fear and I am not alone. Ngige is the most popular politician in Anambra State, but see what happened to him. It is not him; it is the party to which he belongs and it has nothing to do with anti-Yoruba. CPC headed by Buhari, ACN headed by Yoruba formed a merger and its National Chairman is a Muslim, National Secretary is a Muslim, National Publicity Secretary is a muslim, virtually all national officers are muslims. Whether they revise it tomorrow or not, the indication is very clear. There is nothing to read on the wall; it is already written everywhere. They can amend it to get a two-party system but the way it started gives a gap. Although CPC calls itself Congress for Progressive Change; it is not a progressive party. At the end of 2011 presidential election, many people went to their untimely graves. That is not progressive politics. Again, the foundation has been laid for further killings should anything happen in 2015. I like Junaid Muhammed , because he is blunt, but he already said that if Jonathan contests in 2015, blood will flow. We haven’t finished the mourning of 2011 and they are talking of further blood flowing in 2015. That is not progressive politics. That somebody from any other part of Nigeria cannot have as much right as a particular section of the country is not progressive politics. The constitution is very clear on two terms- if you win, you win and if you lose, you lose. We have been together for so many years out of which 381/2 years,the north has been dominant. However, I am happy that some northerners are beginning to show some understanding. It is said in one of the national dailies that the North will be better off with a non northern president because a non northern president will not be feudalistic. The problem we are facing is not the fault of anybody; it is the fault of the social system we inherited. Look at how Igbo are suffering from excessive individualism. One of our good points is achievement motivation. We go to the desert and convert it to where people live. But today, that achievement motivation has gone haywire , because the social value and ethics which condition achievement motivation are no longer there. So, we look for money anywhere we get it. That is why our people are being buried in the ocean and in the Mediterranean Sea. That is why they are dying in the Sahara Desert. If you hear that people are dying there, it is only us (Igbo) and a very few Edo people. No Yoruba man dies there. We must be ready to acknowledge our mistakes and move forward. We are in Kano sending our children to school and we see northerners moving around as Almajiri. It would have been our duty to take those children off the streets, take them to school and pay for them as we pay for our own children. The time has come for us to make friends with other Nigerians. It is time to invest our earnings in other societies. It is also time for us to make more investment at home rather than abroad. I am threatened by the potential of APC to do harm. There was a time people interviewed me and I said it is a red light to Nigeria. Nobody replied because everybody knew that I said these things as I saw them.
So, you see APC as a red light to Nigeria?
That is what I said before. I said so because it is not based on ideology and you can see that it bends more on religion than ideology which everybody has seen, known and accepted. That is why the people of Anambra State dumped their most preferred man. I want a two-party system,because I was among the Permanent Secretaries who prepared Babandiga’s return to civil rule programme. We proposed a two-party system; Babangida only announced it as if it were a military proposition. So, whereas I would have been celebrating the two-party system made possible by APC, the fact that they lack ideology and have religious colouration make me have some reservations. Overall, the prospects are bright and beautiful. Jonathan has shown to be the best President we ever had potentially.
If he sticks to the ongoing national dialogue, he would have done the ultimate transformation of Nigeria into a country that works. If we go to the national conference and discuss peacefully and progressively, the 2015 election will become no case. Nigeria needs a change. We need to stop the monumental corruption going on. But the way we are organised into 36 states going to federal government to take national cake and coming back to distribute at home cannot continue. We need to organise into a smaller number of states for economic development and control purposes. If we reorganise and have about six geo-political zones as federating units or even double it and make it twelve and we make the police work according to zones and army national, while the zones tackle problems like power, water, ecology and transportation, there will be a great transformation of the system. By doing so, there will be competition. The time there used to be competition between the north and the South, Ahmadu Bello developed the north and gave hope to people educationally. Okpara did the same thing in the East and the big one-Awolowo developed Southwest educationally. Zik wasn’t so much concerned about Igbo, he was purely a nationalist. So, we can see good hope, we can see danger. If we maneuver well, we avoid danger and inherit good hope.
The south west has always been an advocate of national conference, but the APC and its national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu said it’s diversionary…
(Cuts in). You must understand one thing. The Yoruba man and the woman even in the village are more politically sagacious than the rest of Nigeria. The Yoruba has a national anthem for Oodua State. Whatever Tinubu is saying is not Yoruba and he doesn’t mean what he is saying. In fact, he has already changed and diverted his view to a good cause when he said that Jonathan was not being honest or serious by saying that whatever is the outcome of the conference would be sent to the National Assembly. Even me, once I heard that, I said you can keep your dialogue. There is no need going there to waste time because sending the recommendation to the National Assembly is like standing where you are. People want to be able to say for the first time in the history of Nigeria that we the people of Nigeria make and give onto ourselves this constitution. It is only possible to do so by going to a referendum. Nothing in it will affect the incumbent office holders. If on the other hand 2015 becomes invisible for peaceful election, people can make a statement and award two more years to the incumbent office bearers. And in return, they are precluded from any national office.
That was the proposal Ekweremadu made which elicited public outrage. Are you also suggesting the same proposal?
I said it before him, but he is in a big office now. I said it from an angle that works. What I am saying is that if 2015 is going peacefully well, the election that everybody is afraid of will be a mere routine. No problem. But if the conference is not making progress or is chaotic somehow and 2015 remains a dangerous something, it will be wise to let whoever is in power continue for two more years but barred from contesting future election.
If the conference holds, what do you think should be the agenda of the Igbo to be presented at the dialogue?
Things are changing very fast. Already, the Igbo, the Yoruba and the South-South have submitted one paper to the Senator Femi Okunrounmu-led committee. The Yorubas position is identical with Igbo and South-South position and much of the Middle Belt will buy it. Nigeria is changing. Those who said they were born to rule may find nobody to rule but themselves.
You said in your earlier position that the way Yoruba politics is heading signals danger for the country because of religious coloration….
(Cuts in). Yoruba is a model for religious tolerance. We want it to remain that way. But If CPC joins APC and begins to radicalize our people in the South, it will add to the problem of Nigeria instead of solving it. This is my fear.
Some people are already bragging that APGA has become the authentic party for the Igbo race. How less evil is a sectional party to a party that is tending towards religious ideology?
Igbo is Igbo anywhere; it is not about Christian or about Muslim. APGA could not have won that election, if Ngige did not join APC. PDP would have swept the votes. But you see, the rest of Nigeria will like to go and milk Anambra State during election. Every party goes to Anambra to milk. Suswan was sent to Anambra to go and settle a matter there; he came back and called us names. Because we are the richest rural area in Africa according to the World Bank, Nigerians target our money, they rush in with all kinds of parties and squeeze money out of Anambra and go away. They have kept PDP scattered and divided so that the money will be flowing. PDP is the biggest party in Anambra State. APGA doesn’t control up to ¼ of the populace. That is where Andy Uba who declared trillion naira when he was going for the election is, that is where Ukachukwu is, that is where all the rich ones are. And I think that was what affected Ngige. He wasn’t rich enough on his own; he thought perhaps APC will bring money. Of course, they brought money, we chopped it.
How do you see the prospect of PDP dominance with the new development?
APC is not well founded, so, it is not a threat to PDP.
But they are almost at equilibrium
As far as the House or National Assembly is concerned, they may be equal on the ground, they are not equals. When it comes to voting, you think APC will win in the West? We will see. ACN would have won in the West but with this fusion with CPC, let’s see how it plays. You in the west owe us a duty to explain what Junaid meant by saying that the west is pressing for northern presidency more than north. He said it is the west that is pressing for northern president against Jonathan. We want to know where Yoruba stands before we begin to isolate them.
What’s the prospect of Jonathan’s re-election bid in all of this?
Mission accomplished. If it is not Jonathan, it is an Igbo man.
If it is not Jonathan, are the Igbo prepared for the race since nobody has signified intention to contest the presidency?
Since Jonathan is there, why should we come out to challenge him? Why should he not go for the second term? We support him going for the second term. But if anybody wants to stop him, it will be Igbo.
But some youths are already agitating for Igbo presidency….
No, it is Balarabe Musa that said it is time for Igbo if they can unite. No group in Nigeria has potential for unity than the Igbo. No group in Nigeria can remain out of central power for as long as Igbo have remained out of central power and still pretend to be united. For just eight years of Obasanjo’s regime, the North disintegrated. The North is in pieces. They know it.
Why do Igbo always support other ethnic nationalities instead of making case for themselves?
We are making our case all the time. But we are also jealous. Jonathan is from the East.
From the East?
Yes, in the past, we didn’t have southwest, south-south. We had east and the north. If Jonathan comes out, why not support him?
Would you not have sacrificed Igbo’s chance by the time he finishes his second term?
If you add up eight-year civilian tenure of Obasanjo and his military regime with Jonathan’s two terms, you are still not in any way near 38 years the north has stayed in power. And they were there not even in the interest of the country or the interest of their people. That is the reason for Boko Haram.
You alluded to widespread corruption in the system. How genuinely committed is this administration to its pronouncement on corruption?
To get rid of corruption, you have to create a policy of do as I do. But the president seems to think that corruption is too deeply rooted to combat it immediately. If we have a national dialogue and create meaningful governments that are near the people, people will challenge political leaders and corruption may begin to reduce. Nobody is scoring the government high on anti-corruption war, not even its strongest supporters.
But I see Jonathan in the hands of God. Whether he knows what he is doing or not, God knows what he is doing. How many years have we been talking about national conference, about restructuring, about true federalism? Now, it is Jonathan who is doing it. If he does just that and goes off, he will be the most celebrated president we have ever had.