By Chidi Obineche
■ Ex-gov mulls over national confab takeover
Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Third Republic governor of Anambra State, and a delegate to the on-going National Conference speaks with deliberate élan vital, and courage which flows from decades of national service, political activism and immanent statesmanship. From his enthralling days in the nation’s civil service, to the bumpy, hair-raising political field, and now the rocky chair of the patriarch, Ezeife dons the triple garbs with ease, in his appreciation of national concerns.
He tells of the mutual suspicion and rivalry amongst the disparate ethnic and other interest groups at the National Conference, which threatened its smooth take-off last March, the need for extension of the conference in the face of crushing internecine realities, and the permanent halt to clashes between cattle rustlers and farmers with cattle grazing technology.
He describes the political hostilities raging across the nation’s political firmament which he dubbed “Political Haram”, as worse than the dare-devil Boko Haram insurgency. In his view, the political haram dwells more in the “mergers and acquisitions” of political parties, unrestrained defection by political gladiators, and other forms of subversive activities targeted at undermining “a person not born to rule.”
The former permanent secretary goes on to lay the blame of both ‘Political Haram’ and Boko Haram at the doorsteps of “The people who sponsored Boko Haram, who sponsored all this mergers and acquisitions, who sponsored the revolutionalisation of violence, the people who are in charge of trying to prove that Nigeria can be made ungovernable, who are saying that the President is doing nothing to protect lives and property.”
Ezeife takes on the military who adventured into governance saying they cut a pitiable, puny and tragic sight while there, adding for better effect, that “the military ruled and ruined Nigeria”
On the intrigues and battles ahead of the 2015 elections, he says “is there any doubt the Boko Haram, political violence, APC, and all the functional aspects of Nigeria’s politics today, from the beginning to the end are aimed at stopping Jonathan”. But his response to the manoeuvres is clear and simple. “man can raise hell, man can do all manners of iniquity, man cannot remove Jonathan from the presidency.
Ezeife places a heap of burden on the National Conference to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the people. Playing the Nostradamus, he affirms that there will be no elections in 2015, unless the ensuing debilitating conditions are kept in abeyance. In the event of no election, “then there is no choice, but letting the National Conference become sovereign…. “Fine I will with all conscience and happiness, say let the National Conference convert to sovereign National Conference and order political changes,” he posits.
Sunday Sun met him in his house in Asokoro, Abuja.
Most of the things that actually instigated the convening of the National Conference like regionalism, state police, true federalism, etc, did not pass the committee stage. Why?
As you know, there are differences of opinion. There are different ways of arriving at results. But the most important of the issue is the federating units. We were going there. The entire southern Nigeria was going there, hoping that we will get the geo-political zones as federating units. Even within the South, we had problems. In the North, they had problems. So, there are some confrontations. Now, the idea of Zonal Commission is taking good shape and people are buying into it. Any improvement is welcome. Zonal commission will make for the ascension of the zones, attacking those major things that will require economics of scale – power, technology, transportation, and so on.
State police? The resistance to state police is by those who habour the fear that it could be turned into a different thing from its lofty objectives. You know the index is that what does one governor at this stage of our moral development do with state police? But, you see, we don’t think just like that. We need to be pragmatic in the way we handle things. What then should be done if we don’t want state police? We can decentralise the police on zonal basis with the governors in the zones playing the role of commander-in chief of the police. That is, if we don’t have state police. But in the proposed arrangement, for instance, the South East will have South East police, and all the governors in the zone will assume control of the force in the zone, not one governor. The same goes for other zones.
That way, that will go far in achieving the requirements of state police without having a state police. That is the problem. But when it comes to true federalism, devolution of powers, it is easy to look at the items and say they are too long for exclusive list. But when you look down on how does the state handle these things, you begin to think again. But if we can close our eyes, and take a harder look at some of these things, we can come out with something different. By the way, do not believe that what has gotten past the committee stage will not see the light of the day again. As we get to understand each other, as we become familiar with the problems, and the fears of each other die down, we may resurrect some of the issues and bring them back again for attention.
So, you are saying there is hope for true federalism, state police and regionalism?
Yes, they are not irretrievable. As I said, zonal police, not state police, is possible. True federalism has no definition.
You are on the last lap of the conference, i.e. the second plenary session after the committee stage. What is your impression so far about the conference? Among the various interest groups there, which do you think has an upper hand?
Number one, no election in this world has produced the quality of delegates we have at the conference.
Secondly, if we are not legalistic, we should use this conference to re-order Nigeria, for us to live in it.
Thirdly, it is good that we have this conference. The hatred, the division, the ethnic and religious differences that usually come in as wedge among Nigerians are there, but we are there forging ahead. In the first two weeks of this conference, maybe some pessimists thought the conference was not going to make a headway. But you can see how far we have gone and the progress made. That shows that Nigerians are united in the belief to advance national interests and make the country a better place.
Yesterday, there was fear as a result of grazing reserves. Eh? But it showed our primitivism and nothing else showed that we should talk as we did yesterday(May 22). There was commotion based on misunderstanding. Today, there is what is called hydroponics border technology. You know, from the beginning of production to the end – 6 days – you produce what the animal will eat.
Whether there is desertification, climate change, whether there is rain or no rain or any environmental issue, you produce normally like you produce power. You produce the seeds, goods in a place, get some water in a special technology, and in 24 hours they have germinated. In 6 days, the grass, and everything is ready, and you put it off and feed the cattle. No more walking from Katsina to Port-Harcourt. And it will totally reduce the perennial clashes between these normads and farmers totally. And now, for instance, you can have a ranch in Akwa Ibom State, Enugu State, in Lagos, in Sokoto a ranch. No more should we have people wasting in the bushes tending to cows Yet, you will even have fatter cows with this technology.
There were some calls for tenure elongation of the present administration on the floor of the conference. How was it received and how far did it go?
Let me say this. If honesty must take a place, I must say I was, maybe the instigator. I wrote objectively when I said ‘welcome National delegates’. At one stage, I said that if we are not fast enough, and the conference clashes with the timetable for 2015 elections, what do we do? I used an Igbo adage which says you fight for the land first, before fighting for the mat. (Izota ala, Izobazie ute – Igbo translation).
This is because the constitution is basic. It is what makes us to say or not say. You conduct election in crises situation without looking forward to a settled atmosphere, (it is part of the constitution) must be dangerous. So I asked the question. And I answered it. But no idea of tenure elongation in my mind as such. Yesterday,(May 22) the chairman of the conference laid the ghost to rest.
There is no tenure elongation. Indeed, a better idea came up. To me, if we don’t finish, we keep going. Even when it is election time, we have elections. Maybe you give some break for the election. After the election, you go back to the conference and complete what you have to do.
After the elections?
Yes. We must have the elections. But if we don’t finish what we are doing, if we don’t have a constitution, we can do the elections, and after the election, we continue with the conference. Until we get what we want and then that becomes the new order of the day.
The government pegged the conference at three months. That means you will ask for extension of time?
All these are ifs… if we don’t finish. But I hope we will finish. It will not surprise you that we can finish. In 1987 we had the reports, in 1999 of course; 2005, and then 2015. Do not forget the Belgore reports. You can see the depth of the committee reports. We pick from here, we pick from there. So it will not surprise you if we finish. But if we don’t finish, there is a realistic question on whether the conference cannot become a fuss for the Nigerian political system.
Given the perilous state of national affairs currently, how will the conference soothe the nerves of people. Specifically, I am referring to the relentless spate of crises, and tension in the polity, especially in the North.
That is why the conference was called. The people South East will say thank you Nigeria, for giving us one more state. At least for bringing us at par with most of the zones.
Is it now a fait-accompli?
Yes, as far as the committee is concerned. Yes, I remember in 2005, 39 out of 40 leaders voted in favour of one more state to the South East. In 2013, the Belgore commission, despite the ensuing problems brought equity and justice to it. And the issue now is whether it will be like any other state creation exercise, or do we allow the South East, as soon as they agree on which state to be created, add it among the states of Nigeria. So the North should be grateful to Nigeria, for what I am going to produce today (May 23) .
It is already in our report, but they didn’t know about it. It is called border technology, which I was explaining to you earlier before we got here. So, the West is not happy. The West was more cohesive and united on zonal government than the rest of the country. They were also more determined on state police. Some of these things can be referred to as from the West. The Middle Belt?, I think the people must celebrate, because the ordinary people in the Middle Belt are beginning to accept themselves as separate human beings, able to hold their own; because in the past, they have always been perceived as servants of the core Northern Muslim oligarchy.
Now, let’s look at the nation’s security system. It is in dire straits. The Boko Haram insurgency has exposed its underbelly. How will the National Conference intervene and change the situation? There are a legion security organizations without proper co-ordination of intelligence services? Is foreign assistance desirable?
I think soldiers are offering assistance. Let me take it from the political angle, because Nigerians are talking too much. What is happening? The noise is too much.
How would you describe the last 15 years of democracy? Don’t you think that military rule would have done better especially in tackling security issues?
In the beginning, a person not born to rule was going for election. Even when in accordance with the constitution he was supposed to act as the president, he was never allowed to act, until the doctrine of necessity came up. Then he eventually emerged, and some people said (and they are still alive) that if Jonathan is elected, they will make Nigeria ungovernable. Let nobody forget that this is where the problem started. Then, Buhari offered himself for President. Towards the end, he virtually declared himself the winner, because he said he had won, and if he wasn’t declared the winner, then it must have been rigging.
And the result came and everywhere went up in flames. People were killed across the country especially in the North. When the situation appeared to have calmed down, Boko Haram acted in a very serious way. Those who said they will make the country ungovernable are still around. Watch them. Then they staged Political Haram, which has the following elements. Seven governors of PDP decided they were going to form New PDP. Our friend, Bola Tinubu, and Buhari came together and merged their two parties. Atiku Abubakar went over to the party and it was looking like a Muslim brotherhood. Then as things were getting even worse, the immediate design was to spread the violence.
In fact, we thank God that this one has reasonably gone down. People were brought from other countries, pretending to be Fulani herdsmen, killing people across the states, everywhere in the North, going down South, even Makurdi, Otukpo especially. That is unprecedented comprehensive violence in Nigeria. And what is the issue? The ordinary man asks? What is the job of the federal government? Of course, it is to protect lives and property. And then you ask, is this Federal Government protecting lives and property adequately? And some people will say, no, no, it is not protecting lives and property adequately.
The people who sponsored Boko Haram, who sponsored all these mergers and acquisition, who sponsored the revolutionisation of violence, the people who are in charge of trying to prove that Nigeria can be made ungovernable, are the people who are saying that the president is doing nothing to protect lives and property. They put the fire on, they keep spreading the fire, and turn around and say oh! oh! see fire o! fire is burning o! The President is on fire and cannot control fire. I think Nigerians must think again and know whether we will allow again anyone who is the architect of the violence we have now to rule.
Some of the people who are being suspected of saying they will make the country ungovernable vehemently denied it. Are you still insisting they are culpable?
They are the ones. You know there are things that are so elementary; things that are so obvious. Those people called Boko Haram haven’t got the money even to feed themselves fully. What I heard about Oturkpo was that when these attackers arrived, airforce people from Makurdi airport came. But when they saw the guns and type of equipment they were carrying, they dropped their own guns and ran away. And these people had a field day.
This happened near Oturkpo in Benue state, about three weeks or four ago. So, yes, I know that some people are prepared to take some money and commit suicide. I know the type of people who are bringing the money. We know who are bringing the money. We know those behind the problem, and we know those who used their mouth to say they will make Nigeria ungovernable, and they are trying to make Nigeria ungovernable.
But the President said the other day that it has been established that Boko Haram has links with the notorious Al-Queda in the Maghareb region?
Al-qaeda is international.
Don’t you believe the President?
Who is the person they are targeting? Who used his mouth to say they will make the country ungovernable? Was there any Al-qaeda man who came to Nigeria and said he will make the country ungovernable? Why are we looking for things that we know where they are?
If the government knows the sponsors of Boko Haram as you insist, if they know those who said they will make the country ungovernable, why is the government silent and chasing shadows, as it were?
Jonathan, as president is not your conventional politician. I see Jonathan as a tool in the hands of God, to do to Nigeria what God wants to do to Nigeria. To make Nigeria what God wants Nigeria to be. Jonathan does not behave like a politician. He doesn’t compensate you if you work for him. He doesn’t even know that you are working for him. Therefore, you work for Jonathan, because you believe in Nigeria, you believe in the permanence of one Nigeria, as best for Africa.
You work for Jonathan if you remember that the blackman was the originator of all civilization and that Nigeria, with the highest concentration of all blacks on earth should be a leader. And we suffered in slavery, and now Nigeria has a role to remove the shame of slavery from the face of black Africa. That is why God created Nigeria, using the instrumentality of British imperialism. So, you are not looking at Jonathan. You are looking at the bigger picture of Nigeria. So, if one dies trying to make Nigeria good for Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Ibibio, everybody, he should be smiling to heaven.
You talked about non-compensation of those who work for Jonathan. But we learnt that people like Chief Edwin Clark, Asari Dokubo, who have always stuck out their necks for him have been adequately compensated?
I don’t know about that one. I am not interested in compensation.
I want to talk about the last 15 years of democracy in Nigeria. Looking around now, and with the festering crises, don’t you think that military rule would have done better especially in tackling security matters?
A big lie. A big lie. It is not true. The military brought us to where we are now. Even what we are trying to reverse at the National Conference now were the excesses of the military. Do you know that the greatest damage the military did to Nigeria was manipulating the minds of Nigerians, using tribes, religion, geography. People came to believe that Nigeria is not worth dying for. If people are given money to go and riot, Nigerians cannot move like we had in the Arab spring a few years ago. Nigerians cannot move. Otherwise you will have people who will say, okay kill me, but keep Nigeria.
If you say that the military didn’t do much before handling over to civilians, can you pinpoint the particular regime that was the most culpable for that?
I know that Yakubu Gowon was not very political and did his best. One particular person scattered the civil service and we have not recovered from it. I was a civil servant. I knew that the civil service had a system. Ultimately, I knew I was well prepared for the job. We had a well trained, determined civil service corps, and that was better for Nigeria. The civil servant loved Nigeria and did his level best to make the nation great.
Somebody came and sacked people out of tenure. After that, there was some kind of mix-up in the system. People who don’t know enough started being more involved. They thought they had power and they were doing things as they liked. No military leader in Nigeria ever planned for economic development in a big way. The index of power in the world today is economic development. If you don’t focus on development, what are you focussing on? How will Nigeria ever make things good and happy for the average man? The military ruled and ruined Nigeria. This is not an overstatement.
Government declared a state of emergency in the affected states two years ago and has secured two extensions without much to show for it. How do you look at the scenario? And what do you think is frustrating the emergency declaration?
There are problems and the military should better look at themselves. Are the soldiers happy? Is the welfare of the soldiers such that he will give you the best? Are the soldiers at hand the people who can give the best service? No. We need to look deeply into the situation. Our soldiers are not inferior people, but do they go and risk their lives when nobody seems to be caring for them?. Things that are meant for you are diverted to other places and you are supposed to fight with machetes against someone with sophisticated weapons.?
In other words, do you declare it dead on arrival?
I have not said that. I even recommended declaration of state of emergency about one and half years before it was declared and implemented. Right now, since some of the governors are creating problems, I don’t know whether we should not go all the way.
The Senate gave a conditional approval for the emergency declaration. Isn’t that a problem in itself?
Well, this is politics. The Senate did not do it earnestly. I thought we should have been united as a nation in this thing. The APC, you don’t really know the role they are playing. The APC is there, the PDP is there, and the other parties are there. Their roles are not clear.
There is a school of thought that the indiscriminate bomb blasts, killings, abductions and other forms of violence which have escalated, are aimed at intimidation and stopping Jonathan from running in the 2015 elections. What do you say to that?
Is there any doubt that Boko Haram, political violence, APC, and all the functional aspects of Nigeria’s politics today, from the beginning to the end, are aimed at stopping Jonathan? First of all, he was not allowed to do his constitutional duties as President, when the late President was sick. Again, he was rejected by some groups and people when he sought to seek election for President. Thirdly, after he became President, there was barely concealed resistance to his presidency, Those who said they will make Nigeria ungovernable for him launched all kinds of violence.
Today, I hear that people say that if Jonathan contests election again in 2015 and wins, they will break Nigeria. First, it was, if he wins, they will make Nigeria ungovernable. Now it is if he runs and wins, they will break Nigeria. So, everything was targeted against Jonathan. And no President of Nigeria ever has done as well as Jonathan, even though he is not a politician and you may not like his style, if he has any style at all. But, no President, any honest Nigerian will accept, has excelled like him. Today, the railway is running. Today, electric power has been given to the private sector. It will take sometime before they get their acts together. I come from the East. I can fly out from Enugu.
Almajiris are now being treated like human beings. So many schools, so much money devoted to their welfare. The North is getting so much developmental efforts. But what some people are complaining about is that the President has adopted appeasement strategy. He is giving everything to the North west. North west is Defence Minister. North west is National Security Adviser, North west is everything. Everything is North west. If I were from North east, I will be very mad. Those of us from the South east, we have no roads. Whether it is sabotage, or that he does not know what is happening, I don’t know. But no where in the East do you have roads, comparable to the West or North.
Given the determination of these groups and people who are poised to stop him from running in 2015, how do you look at the picture? Will they succeed or not? And if they succeed, how will Nigeria be?
As I told you my brother, I see Jonathan as a divine projection. If Jonathan is as I see him – a tool in the hands of God, to implement the manifest destiny of Nigeria, man can raise hell, man can do all manners of iniquity. Man cannot remove Jonathan from the presidency. All this nonsense; all the noise, all the killings, all the blood will flow, and after the 2015 election, you see Jonathan as president. That will make for only regrets on the part of those, who ruined parts of Nigeria. Tell me why, if I am from Maiduguri, I will join anybody to destroy my area.
Look, Nigeria is a country, a country has indefinite life. The most Jonathan can do is to last for another 4 years from 2015 to 2019. That is, 2019 is the upper most for Jonathan. But if God has a hand in it, I don’t see any man doing anything, or having any business to make any difference. Never. Look, this man was picked as Deputy Governor because he comes from a politically inconsequential place. Then all of a sudden, by virtue of certain circumstances, the Governor was removed and he became Governor. Somehow, somebody propelled him to Vice Presidency, and God took away the President.
After all was said and done, the doctrine of necessity was brought up, and here now, he is President, doing God’s work and succeeding more than anybody who has ruled us since military rule. I cannot see the future. I am only a human being. But the idea that comes to my head shows me that it is not over for him.
On the flipside, if they succeed in stopping him in 2015, the North and the South East are already on the fringes, waiting for any drop. Between the North and the South East, who should go for the job?
Ah. It will be easy. Who is the North? Remember, we have Chadic people at the tip of Nigeria. That is Hausa/Fulani and Shua Arabs. They are at the topmost.
Then you have the Kwararafa people, the Benue-Congo people, who are actually all of us, the rest of Nigeria. But they are most prominently known in the middle belt. If you study contemporary Nigeria, if you carefully review the evolving socio-political situation, the Middle Belt people have declared independence from the North. Only some of their leaders are still talking and holding allegiance to the chadic people.
If Jonathan is removed, first, what they are fighting for goes, because no Southern people, no Delta people will allow you come for oil. So, the oil you want to go and fight and get, 100% of it will go. We hear things. Some of the governors are talking as if they are abandoned by the South, and so feel cheated. We are in the same business. So are you leaving us? If Jonathan is not allowed to run, it will be worse than his running and failing.
Please take a peep into 2015. What do you see?
I don’t see elections. I see common sense taking over. But if the plenary of the National Confab changes things, there will be major changes in Nigeria that will satisfy people. And if the other groups listen, things improve, and there is no hope of violence, Boko Haram will just melt away. Then we can have elections and there is no harm in having elections. Many people need to move from where they are to other places for fear of what will happen with the election.
As of now, intelligent nationalists must worry about having 2015 elections because it will not be peaceful. And the prediction by other countries that Nigeria will disintegrate in 2015 will come to pass.
Then should there be tenure elongation?
No. There should be no tenure elongation so called. I see…. I don’t know… if there is no election, then there is no choice but letting the National Conference become sovereign. If there is no election, because of violence, and because it cannot work, and because it endangers the permanence of one Nigeria; fine. I will with all conscience and happiness say let the National Conference convert to Sovereign National Conference and order political changes.