Obasanjo was a strong president, says ABC Nwosu

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By TONY EDIKE, Enugu
PROFESSOR A.B.C NWOSU  served as political adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and later as  minister of health under the same administration.

Before his appointment by Obasanjo, Nwosu aspired to govern Anambra State and allegedly won the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, primaries to become the party’s candidate ahead of the 1999 elections but the ticket was taken away from him courtesy of the controversial decision of the party’s appeal committee.

Nwosu, in this interview, recalls the incidence of 1999 and insists that the former vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, owes him explanation for denying him the PDP gubernatorial ticket and turned around to support Chukwuma Soludo in 2010 even without primaries.

Nwosu also speaks on the relationship between  Obasanjo and his former  advisers and declared that Obasanjo was a strong president who had his own mind on any issue. He equally comments on  President Umar Musa Yar’Adua’s long absence from power.

You set out to be an academic, specializing in parasitology, but here you are, neck deep in politics. Where is the meeting point between your discipline and politics? Why are you in politics?

My desire was to be the best I could and I was influenced to read parasitology by Prof. Anya.  I remain indebted to him.  In my professorial inaugural lecture I had said that all knowledge was, is, and shall always be for the improvement and good of the community. Knowledge, which is God’s gift, is not for the recipient alone but for the community.

In 1986, a good man, the late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah, gave me the opportunity, as commissioner for health, to apply my knowledge, and I initiated the guinea-worm eradication programme.  I am indebted to the late Commodore Emeka Omeruah.

What I did for guinea-worm eradication is my own brand of politics.  So you can see the meeting point between Parasitology and politics.  And you can also see why people who seek public good must come into politics otherwise  moneticians (not politicians) and political scallywags will ruin the nation.

You served four administrations in the old Anambra State as health commissioner and also became minister of health at a point which looks like a record. What sustained you in power all through these periods?

I do not know what sustained me in power but I am thankful to God because I had enough time to actualize the Anambra State guinea-worm eradication programme which attracted so much international attention and funding especially from JAPAN (JICA) and Global 2000 (Carter Center). I was dumb-founded when in 1988 former President Jimmy Carter, his wife, Roselyn, and  adviser Dr. Donald Hopkins, came to Nigeria to accompany me around guinea-worm afflicted communities in the Abakaliki zone.

To my friend, Dr. Don Hopkins, who was like a rock behind me and JICA that provided over $50 million (US Dollars), hundreds of boreholes, drilling and support equipment, and to UNICEF and Mr. Revy Tuluhungwa, I am indebted.  I regard my pioneering and central role in the eradication of guinea-worm in Nigeria under the current watchful eyes of General Gowon  as my life’s-work, and I feel fulfilled.

The health sector is one that has not done well since our independence in 1960 such that today our leaders don’t even have confidence in our hospitals that they routinely travel abroad for treatment. What are the major problems confronting this sector and why have we been unable to get it right all these years?

To my mind, there are three main areas where Nigeria must sustain its efforts in order to improve healthcare delivery.  The first is to ensure high quality training of medical and healthcare personnel.  Whoever stopped government-sponsored overseas medical attachment of medical personnel did a great disservice to Nigeria.

The Federal Government must revive this programme today, not tomorrow because, more than any other factor, training of medical personnel improves the quality of care.  The other two areas, namely, re-equipping and improvement of the teaching and specialist hospitals, and construction of health centers all-over the country, which were started during President Obasanjo’s regime, need to be sustained to satisfactory completion.

You served as political adviser to Obasanjo before becoming health minister. I remember he once said he was not obliged to take advice from his advisers. What message did that send to you and others serving in that capacity?

Obasanjo, in my view, was right – he was the president and we were his advisers.  There are three things one does with advice – accept, reject, or note – and  Obasanjo did just that.  He gave me two things which I needed from him, access and audience,  to give my advice. I found also that President Obasanjo was a voracious reader; so I spent time sending him many notes, aide memoirs, etc and I can tell you that he read and commented on them. He had his own mind as president and I was comfortable with that.  I did not want to work for a president who did not have his views on the subjects for which he wanted advice.

Obasanjo has come under attack from various quarters for what they claimed he did as president or did not do. To you, what kind of president was Obasanjo? Did you enjoy working with him? Was Obasanjo really bad as a president?

I enjoyed working with President Obasanjo. Indeed, he treated me very kindly and was paternal.   As for being a good or bad president, I am not qualified to judge.  Only history can judge him and us.  What I do know is that he was a strong president. He was also human.  And many will never forgive him for his human failings.  However for many of us who are founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, we had very high expectations of where Nigeria should be by now.  We are not there.

In seeking to rule Anambra as governor in 1999, you had a dream built on vision and correct leadership. You lost that ticket. Since then, about five  governors have ruled this state. Are you satisfied with what has happened over the years?

I lost the primaries ticket when the PDP appeal committee reversed it for Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju.  I accepted the party decision and did not leave the PDP.  I have since moved on.  The damning letter from General A.B. Mamman on that  reversal speaks for itself.  The only unresolved issue for me is why Dr. Alex Ekwueme denied me the ticket via the appeal committee.  It hurts me till date, especially now that he stated his reasons for supporting Prof Chukwuma Soludo – even without primaries.

This is because I went through a Government College, obtained distinctions in all subjects and prizes in WASCE  and HSC, obtained a FIRST CLASS HONS (only four of us in the university) and obtained my Ph.D and D.I.C as a Commonwealth Scholar at the Imperial College, University of London. My academic performance is  verifiable, not to mention my role at Mkpoko Igbo, etc.

The primary election  which I won was conducted by a state executive committee which he (Dr. Ekwueme) endorsed personally. On the basis of all these and more, I insist that Dr. Ekwueme owes me and Anambra people a personal explanation on  why my  ticket for the 1999 election was given to Dr. Mbadinuju under his watch.  And today he has ignored the 2010 failed primaries in Anambra State which gulped close to N500 million.  On  what has happened to Anambra State in the past five years, the people are in the process of correcting the lapses.

Is your dream for the state dead now?

Dreams do not die.  I still dream about a better Nigeria.  I dream about how Nigeria shall be a nation that works for all Nigerians.  I dream about Nigeria that will be a pride for all Africans and black peoples of the world.  My dreams are stated in 2008 at the lecture which I delivered on the 60th birthday of my friend, Dr. Peter Odili.  However, my main concern now is to encourage the younger generation to dream.  I believe that Nigeria will have solved a major problem if it develops political and social structures through which young men and women with clear leadership qualities and spirit of public service are put in political leadership positions.

You were elected governorship candidate of the PDP in 1999 before the crisis that characterized the primaries and later the emergence of Dr. Mbadinuju.  A similar development was experienced in the present dispensation. What is really wrong with PDP in Anambra?

I am a founding member of the PDP and I remember what I said to Chief Audu Ogbeh and a few others on August 31, 1998 as the party was launched. I said then that there was a need to constitute a strong “think-tank” to guide the new party through the lofty ideals and goals that it has set for itself.  Chief Audu Ogbeh can testify to this.  Having said this, what is happening  in  the PDP Anambra State is a nationwide problem for all the political parties.  All the political parties are solely concerned with acquisition of power, and little else.

In your view, why is Anambra PDP always in crisis especially when it comes to selection of its governorship candidate?

The answer lies in my answer to the previous question. Recently, the PDP governorship aspirants were  trying to corner automatic senatorial nominations. When that happens, there will be one thousand governorship aspirants and more riotous primaries in 2014.  In 1998, one of the “aspirants” became the chairman of party, the other secretary to Anambra State Government, etc.

Civil  war ended some 40 years ago yet fears remain in parts of the country that some of the things that triggered the war are still with us. Do you share this apprehension?

Contrary to what many would like to believe, the Nigeria – Biafra war was not about territory.  It was about the security of lives and property.  I fled the University of Ibadan as a result of the crisis and for fear of my life (incidentally along with my friend Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a product of Government College Umuahia).  I enlisted in the Biafran army with many others  of our own free-will.  General Odumegwu Ojukwu did not force us.  When the war ended 40 years ago, we believed that everyone had learnt the lessons from the senseless killings of 1966 and all of us gladly went back to our respective abodes.  So Biafra was not about territory, it was about security of lives.

This was why the senseless deaths in the Niger Delta was a major source of worry for many of us.  I personally salute the Federal Government for the amnesty programme.  In this regard, I also urge government to put a decisive stop to the frequent bloodletting  in the country which  is  giving us a very bad image, whether religious riots, or ethnic riots, or whatever.

Your party has been in power for over 10 years. Looking back now,  would you say it has met the aspirations of Nigeria?

I am not in the business of finger-pointing or chest-beating because I am convinced that the short-comings in our national development are not caused by the Peoples Democratic Party.  Indeed, I am still in the PDP because all the other political parties are “one-man shows” and all talk about the so-called mega-party fizzled  away because of the egos and personal ambitions of the “owners” of the merging parties.  Back to the question,  Nigeria is a long way from the aspirations of the people.  The sheer inconvenience of everyday living by common and not-so-common Nigerians is enough proof that all is not well.

The north has become a bed of crisis for the entire nation in recent years. Only recently, fellow Nigerians were massacred in Jos. What do you think is responsible for this incessant bloodletting in the north?

I cannot speak for the north.  But the bloodletting  whether in Jos, in Maiduguri, in Bauchi, in Kano, and anywhere in Nigeria is  a national problem.  Troops do not get drafted into crisis unless they have a potential for engulfing the entire nation.  It is therefore high time the Federal Government addressed these riots as national problems rather than local crises.

Recalling the Sharia crisis that seriously threatened the peace of the country when you were political adviser under Obasanjo, do you think that regime handled the issue well?

The question of Sharia is a constitutional issue and the Nigerian Constitution is explicit on the subject.  Nigeria is a secular state.  This is fundamental.  Nigeria is also a federation where the federating units have some degree of autonomy.  President Obasanjo’s handling of the subject at the re-emergence of democracy in Nigeria in 1999/2000 was proper and statesmanlike and served to restore normalcy.

In the light of the present radicalization of the north by religious extremists, do you think this problem would have been solved finally if Obasanjo government had returned fire for fire against Sharia at that time?

As I said, President Obasanjo’s handling of the Sharia issue was mature and statesmanlike.  My reading of the spate of religious riots in the north is that it is a challenge to both the northern leaders and Nigerian leaders.  The aspects of these riots that are attributable to poverty and unemployment must be tackled at the roots.  For example, I admire the Talakawa and “social benefit” programme of Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State.

The major problem confronting Nigeria at the moment is the issue of President Yar’Adua’s absence from the country for over two months.  This issue that has generated much debate has also put our constitution on trial. What is your opinion on this critical issue?

My position is that whatever puts our Constitution to the test is not bad per se.  The long absence of President Umar Yar’Adua has done just that, but I am very disappointed by the performance of the institutions that have been set up by the Constitution to interpret such matters. Specifically, I expected decisiveness in interpreting the Constitution (not politics and grandstanding) from the National Assembly.

I expected a similar decisiveness from the Federal Executive Council with a clear, unequivocal learned opinion from the attorney general of the federation. Their sloppy approach is transferring this constitutional matter into the public arena and to the streets, and is polarizing the nation.  This must stop.  To me, it is not about President Yar’Adua or Vice-President Jonathan. Rather, it is about the Presidency and the Nigerian Constitution, and everyone should be concerned that a bad precedent be not set.

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