Says Obasanjo has earned his place in history
Erstwhile Political Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, erstwhile Minister of Health, Prof. Alphonsus Nwosu, was one of the principal founders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, joining from the Peoples National Front, PNF where he was national secretary.
In this revealing interview, Nwosu articulates three principal objectives of the PDP in 1998, one of which was to ensure the realisation of a president from Southern Nigeria in 1999 and another being to permanently check the incursion of the military in governance.
Nwosu also reviews the performance of the political class, analyses issues arising from the National Conference and affirms a respectable place in history for President Obasanjo who he affirms was at all times and in all issues a decisive leader. Excerpts:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Many believe that it the National Conference was a waste of money. Do you agree?
People are entitled to their opinion. Even one of my close friends, Professor Pat Utomi believes that the conference wasted billions and some of us who are his friends in that conference whether Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, ABC Nwosu and the rest, all we can say is if Pat believes that we can be part of any wasted exercise, it is his opinion. May be when we meet, we will explain to him but it remains his opinion and what I take from that opinion is that they have not really bothered to see what we have achieved or read the decisions that have been taken.
The recommendation for the setting up of a Technical Committee by the presidency on the issue of derivation gives the impression of an impasse on the issue. Was that the best you could have done?
I think it was the best way to resolve the matter. I was a member of the committee on devolution of power. Members of that committee will also tell you that I was also the chairman of the writing subcommittee of that committee that produced the report for the plenary.
And I think that if you see our report, you will see that this issue generated so much contention and we adjourned in the committee about five times before we arrived at a decision in the best interest of the country to maintain the equilibrium and stable state that we have in the country and not compromise on the security.
The decision of the plenary was simple. We agreed that 13 per cent derivation should be reviewed upwards eventually, eventually, it was brought to 18 per cent from 21.1 per cent which a subcommittee had agreed on. I think that 18 per cent would have sailed through the plenary.
It was also agreed that there should be mineral development fund which we agreed should be about 5 per cent of national revenue to fast track solid mineral development and bring more money into national revenue from all the six geopolitical zones of the country.
Again, that would have sailed through. The trouble came with the 5 per cent national intervention fund because some said that it should be for north east, north central and north west. It didn’t make sense to the others including me. I will give you three reasons. If it is that, then it should not be a national intervention fund. It should be a northern intervention fund and that was why quickly, people like me said then we must have a southern intervention fund and if we didn’t have that, we will have a Biafara Reparation Fund.
That is just to say that whenever you get unreasonable, you trigger unreasonableness in so many angles you never anticipated. And so, by that thoughtlessness of not agreeing what was on paper that we should have a national intervention fund beginning with the north east, we would not have had a technical committee. But that thoughtlessness produced thoughtlessness and would have ruined the entire work. So, we decided that the Federal Government should look at this matter in its technicalities instead of closing all the other decisions we took.
Would that not generate more controversies?
I don’t know. I am a member of the National Conference. Our report must go back to Mr. President that set us up. We will make recommendations on what Mr. President should do with this report at the end of it. But we have been taking many decisions and this country has not really broken. What I did say and still maintain is that we are all grandstanding. We are all enjoined by being Nigerians to be reasonable.
Once you have unreasonableness coming in, everybody will show you that it is usually reasonable. In the part I come from, it says, if you want to live together, OK. If you don’t want to live together, so be it. There is nobody who is a second class citizen. The south cannot put its foot down for the north. The north cannot put its foot down for the south.
The majority ethnic groups cannot put their feet down for the minority ethnic groups and the minority ethnic groups cannot gang up gang up against the majority. We should do what is good because that is what will bring us into mainstream development in 21st century. That is where I agree with my friend, Professor Pat Utomi that many are living in the past and think that they can be unreasonable, filibuster, do this and that. No, no.
That bit of unreasonableness at the end of the conference serves to remind us that we love ourselves. Let’s be fair to ourselves. What happens when a Nigerian tries to cheat another Nigerian? Oil is coming from his soil, you don’t like him to get the benefits of that oil and then there is sharing, you want it to be only for your own section, not for other sections. If flooding, for example, occurs anywhere, you wouldn’t want him to access the fund. No. This fund is only for the north. Who said so?
What should Nigerians expect as the conference reconvenes on August 4?
Our job on August 4 which may take us a week or weeks or less is to say we approve this report and then, we will send this report to Mr. President with our recommendations. Whether it should lead to a new constitution, then we will have draft constitution attached.
It is his duty to get a draft constitution to the National Assembly. We are not going to review any decision at all. We are going to consider and approve and pass our report and arrange to hand it over to Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief, period.
Would you say that Nigerians have reaped the dividends of democracy even after 14 years?
I think that the be- all and end-all to our welfare and well being is good governance. Many of us who were at least in secondary school before 1960 look back with nostalgia to our premiers then. And that’s why many of us are still clamouring for regions and all that.
We remember that the secondary schools we attended were for the rich and the poor. The health facilities were for the rich and the poor.
The teaching hospital, UCH at Ibadan was very highly rated in the commonwealth. The universities then were highly rated. Our premiers had little in terms of personal wealth. Let me use my own premier, Late Dr. M. I. Okpara for example.
Everybody knew he gave public service. Everybody knew that he denied himself to give the best to the state and that was why Eastern Region prospered. When the military came, no matter how people want to interpret it, the military in my view intervened because they wanted better governance of the people. When it was misinterpreted and the civil war followed, we still had the military. But some of their actions were good. National Youth Service Corps scheme was good.
The third mainland bridge was good. The federal unity schools, government colleges were good, etcetera. So, I don’t judge governance based on civilian rule or military rule. I judge it by the policies that are people-oriented. We must go back to people oriented policies. Any public money you spend must be spent with a consideration as to how many people will benefit from it. You don’t have to go and build specific roads so that people who have Rolls Royce cars and Mercedes Benz cars can pass on them. That is not people orientated policy and I can go on.
Do you share the opinion of its critics that the People Democratic Party, PDP which has been in power since 1999 is a failed party?
The party has not failed Nigerians. I am a founding member of the PDP. I belonged to one of the five associations that fused to get the PDP in 1998. That association was called PNF (Peoples National Front). I was the secretary and we fused. We met here in Abuja. It was in Professor Jerry Gana’s house. The founding interim chairman was Dr. Alex Ekwueme until he had a presidential ambition and so, Solomom Lar came.
Lar was not the first chairman of the PDP and I was in the writing committee with Sule Lamido and the rest. PDP has not failed. Our manifesto is clear. It is those who have operated this manifesto at the various states that have failed. Not all of them anyway. Some have succeeded while some have failed.
So, PDP has not failed as a party. For example, many people look at privatization, etcetera. It is there in the manifesto. People don’t read the manifesto. They read the constitution of the PDP in order to see who to expel, who to do this and that. And now, people are meeting in Government Houses instead of political party houses. So, at a stage, we formed the PDP reforms forum. They expelled about 12 of us and recalled 12 of us. But the national convention of the PDP is not a convention to anoint office holders. We should hold conventions to reaffirm the manifesto and the direction and where we should be leading the people to.
These were the things we were thinking of. We were not envisaging a PDP meeting in Government Houses under the directives of governors and then anointing who would be senators and all that. We wanted internal democracy. Who the people want should go. So, it is those who started it whether it is guardroom or boardroom democracy or whatever that really derailed. PDP as a political party was formed on 3 main reasons: that all politicians should as much as possible come in and develop an ideology and reaffirm civilian rule so as to ensure there is no military intervention again.
The second one was that there must be a manifesto that is people based. The third is that power must shift from the North to the South and that was why in 1999, the north honoured it. It must shift from the north to the south. So, those of us who were there had clear principle that brought us in. I am not one who derides politics. People say oh, I am a professional in politics. I am a professional politician now but I will not go for an elective office any more.
Are you worried by godfatherism in Nigerian politics especially in your home state, Anambra…?
(Cuts in) It’s everywhere. In any state at all where a governor has served for two terms, you can see what happens. It is the duty of the people to protect internal democracy. The people should refuse and say we want somebody to govern us and nobody is good enough to govern us without our consent. That is a basic tenet of democracy.
You were part of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. What would you remember that government for?
President Obasanjo was a strong president. He was not going to allow any forces that would pull on the unity of Nigeria. He would crush those forces with all that he had. That one I can say for him. He did not want any divisive forces in Nigeria even to take root. He was passionate about good governance to the extent that a human being can be. If you remember, I was substituted as a gubernatorial candidate in Anambra for Dr. Mbadinuju and so, on 29 May, 1999, President Obasanjo without knowing me, without having met me appointed me his political adviser.
I thus became the first Igbo person in the cabinet. I believe we were about five: Joseph Sanusi (Central Bank), Jackson Gauis-Obaseki (NNPC), Musului Smith (IGP), myself and one other.
When I saw him that night, I told him I was Professor ABC Nwosu. He stood back and asked “you?” And I answered “yes”, Mr. President. He took me inside a small room. In his right hand pocket, he had a bill for the creation of NNDC. I owe it as a duty to my God to say it.
He had it there that first night. On his left pocket, he had an anti-corruption bill. These were the two things he told me that I had to help him work on. The NNDC bill and anti-corruption bill and I can go on and on to tell you what we then did when I became Minister of Health. So, in summary, Obasanjo was committed to good governance anchored on delivery of services to the people. Like all human beings, we had our failures and they were many. But we had some successes.
NWOSU ON OBASANJO
•Obasanjo appointed him Political Adivser without any prior meeting or conversation
•Obasanjo had pity on him when he heard the story of how he was shortchanged in the Anambra PDP gubernatorial primary of 1999.
•Obasanjo had a plan for the Niger Delta and against corruption from his first day in office
•You could never count Obasanjo as indecisive when it came to issues concerning Nigeria. He knew what to do at all times and he did all to the best of his ability