By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Academician, politician and retired permanent secretary, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife could well be described as a man who made a success of his endeavours as an academic having been a member of the faculty of some Africa’s leading universities including Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, University of Ibadan, and Harvard University. He subsequently joined the civil service where he retired at the apex as a permanent secretary. Following his retirement, he joined politics and on his first try was elected governor of Anambra State on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP.
An unwavering voice for an egalitarian society, Dr. Ezeife in this interview gives his assessment of the state of the nation, the Igbo race among other national issues.
There are people with the view that if the country is restructured, it may lead to disintegration, what is your take?
The only thing that assures the disintegration of Nigeria is the non-restructuring of Nigeria; I want you to know it and tell the world that those of us who love Nigeria are the people talking about restructuring. I will give you a paper I did on the basis for unity where I talked to few that to maximise the welfare of Nigerians, we need to restructure Nigeria and make sure that justice works in Nigeria.
We have six geo-political zones; we have six protocol offices; President, Vice President, Senate President, Chief Justice, Speaker, Secretary to Government. If we have six geopolitical zones, we should expect at least one of those positions to go to each zone. Because of injustice and marginalisation, the South East does not share in any of these, not even the least, Secretary to Government was given to South East.
The South East is largely absent from the budget of Nigeria, largely absent from the list of new employments in Nigeria. But the South East dominates the list of people removed from office in Nigeria. I am not talking about the killings, massacre of youths of the South East in various parts of the country.
So, how have Ndigbo fared in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration regarding appointments and allocation of resources?
The summary of the situation is that Buhari’s administration has been pushing the South East, Ndigbo out of Nigeria that is why they ignited IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra) with more zeal and more and more people are talking about being on their own.
I told you something, but they are more. When Buhari started recruiting officials, he recruited more than 40 new officials without one South Eastern person there. I have told you about the protocol positions and geo-political zones. There were people earmarked for some headships like NIMASA, Civil Defence, and those people were supposed to be Igbo, but as soon as Buhari took over, they were dropped, and other people were chosen.
Today we know the population of Ndigbo is not small, but today the National Security Council of Nigeria will be meeting without South East being represented. It is clear that our government has no accommodation for South East.
Prominent Igbo personalities are joining the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, do you think it will have any effect on the welfare and development of the South East?
There are many people in politics who cannot stay idle, who cannot stay out of power. The APC, the government in power, has performed abysmally, poorly in Nigeria. There is nothing to attract anybody to APC. Some people say APC is ‘All Promises Cancelled.’ What will attract you to APC? Some politicians know what can attract them. One, control of government machinery to rig election which we have seen in some states. Two, to answer people in power. But in the South East, there is not up to 30 percent support for APC, and there is not going to be any rigging of any election. You can’t rig election in Anambra, no longer will you be allowed to rig in Enugu, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi. We will organise to resist it. Therefore, nobody is afraid. People even from our side are planning along with some people in the presidency cabal how to win Anambra. I am told that some people were selected to go and ‘capture’ not to win but to go and capture Anambra because voting wise there is no way available to anybody in APC to win Anambra if it is a matter of votes. So, some people don’t care about the interest of our people even the respect and dignity of our people which will collapse if Anambra or many Igbo states go to APC.
What is your position on the agitation of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu on the Biafra issue?
Nnamdi Kanu is an intelligent and concerned young man. Very justified in what he is thinking and doing. The problem we are having is that Buhari is pushing the South East out of Nigeria and therefore fanning the fire of secession.
In the South East, we have the Igbo people. Igbo people committed the greatest number of suicide during the slave trade. More Igbo committed suicide than any other group during the slave trade.
Do you know why? There is a saying in Igbo that life without honour is not worth living. At that stage you say, “eji ndu emegini” what are you doing with life not worth living.
So, the Igbo people live in Nigeria today with comprehensive attacks on them. PTD, Put Them Down, is the policy of the government. If you are of the private sector, you order for some containers, they may be confiscated and given out or sold to other people. If you are Igbo and you are doing very well in business, efforts will be made to drag you down. Let me tell you a current situation. You have Ifeanyi Ubah who runs Capital Oil; you have NNPC two corporate organisations. Both claiming that the other owes it. NNPC says Capital Oil owes it and Capital Oil says NNPC owes it N16 billion. Now, this claim and counter claim how does it become national security affair? If it is not PTD, pull them down, why did the DSS (Department of State Service) of all people arrest and detain Ifeanyi Ubah? Nothing except that he is Igbo and making progress.
Others in his position have suffered the same thing, Ibeto was stranded for some time, I am sure Emeka Offor is feeling it. Look, we should be celebrating a Nigerian who audaciously is producing cars. Go and interview Innocent about Innoson Motors, interview many traders whose imported containers are gone. So, we are like a rejected people. Again in our language we say, a person rejected does not reject himself. That is what Nnamdi Kanu is reacting against. One, our life in Nigeria is bad because of injustice, inequity, marginalisation, PTD, Pull them down. Then, also we feel like a rejected people. You get the list of employment; we are absent, you get the list of people who are being laid off in government work, we are dominant.
Also, we went everywhere in Nigeria developing everywhere again in response to our philosophy, “Ebe onye bi k’ona awachi” meaning where you live, you develop or where you live you mend. So, if you look at it, there are things to explain. It is historical fact that we Igbo will go to a strange land, start with all kinds of small jobs, eventually get rich, build a major house whether we have one in our village or not, we build where we are, and we start to ooze out more confidence than the original owners of the land.
And if you are among the original owners of the land, you won’t like it. And in addition to that, those who are from Anambra like me, we put bad mouth. A new situation where God has elevated you above the people you have come to live with. So that one requires action by Igbos.
Action number one, befriend your host communities. Action number two, respect the do’s and donts of your host community. Action number three, sow seeds in your host communities. Give scholarships, support people, train people, let them permanently endear you, feel close to you. So, this is what is happening, the negation of all the good, PTD, pull them down, whether they are military, Major General, General, Lieutenant General, Pull them down, Customs officer, pull him down. All offices in government, pull them out. And then, when you come to recruitment, ignore them.
Kastina state has 51 people recruited by the DSS, and all the South East States have 44. This is what IPOB, MASSOB and all intelligent and meaningful people who understand what is going on, this is what they are reacting against. There is the issue of timing. I have given you the Igbo philosophies that are directing actions, not individual, you may not know they are propelling all the actions we are taking, but they are there. Let me count them again; “Eji ndu eme gini” Life without honour is not worth living. Two “Onye ajuru anaghi aju onwe ya” The rejected does not reject himself. Three, “Ebe onye bi k’ona awachi”, where you live, you mend, you develop.
Look at Nigeria, all meaningful houses, if you go everywhere, you find the majority of those meaningful houses built by Nigerians belong to the Igbo. Come to Abuja the capital city and its environs. So, those who should be helping to push others on top are being pressed down by those others. As they press the people of destiny down, everybody is down.
The 2014 conference approved state police. We may still have state police, but the security of the zone should be in the hands of the zone, and the best is for the zone to control the police. It is better for any state, for any man, for any woman that the zone controls the police without prejudice to the state having some level of police and policing.
The president has health challenges, how will you advice him to handle governance?
The president is not well; it is a health issue, it is a life and death issue. Common sympathy requires that Nigerians should pray for the President’s recovery. We should make a distinction between the state of the economy, the recession and the suffering and the President. When it comes to how well he has ruled us, we can call him any name; we can abuse him.
But when it comes to his being unhealthy, we must sympathise with him and pray for him.
Indeed, whether he resigns or he doesn’t resign, I will not push him to resign. If he chooses to resign, it makes sense; it is reasonable, it is so in the constitution if you see that your health is so impaired, you can no longer function effectively in the office. But nobody should push him because I won’t like him to add office to the health problem he has. Sometimes we complain too much.
The President when he was travelling for medical review wrote to the Senate, saying while he is away, the Vice President will be coordinating affairs. What does the president do? He coordinates the affairs of Nigeria. Section 145 of the Constitution is very clear. Whether he sends that letter or not, if he is out of Nigeria and not performing his job, the Vice President takes over. If it were some people who advised him to use coordinator, they failed woefully because it doesn’t change anything because that is what the president has been doing. But, a spade should be called a spade. When I am away, the Vice President should act in my position, simple!
But let me repeat, please Nigerians behave like human beings. Let the milk of human kindness show in us, in our behaviour, in what we say. Life and death are in the hands of God; we shouldn’t be asking for somebody to die or talk unfeelingly about the person’s health. That is my view.
You said some Igbo business men are suffering from ‘put-him-down’ syndrome by the government of the day, why is it that Igbo businessmen do not like to invest at home, in Igboland?
The question you asked is, why is it that Igbo businessmen invest outside Igboland and not in Igboland, that is your question. In 1992 January, I was sworn-in as governor of Anambra State. The title of my inaugural address to the people of Anambra state was, ‘Think home.’ I said invest in Kano, invest in Sokoto, invest in Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Uyo, but also invest in Anambra State and Igboland. There is something like achievement orientation. When you jump out of your village, you go to Lagos, all you want to do is to achieve and impress people at home. We have gained from the war, Nigeria/Biafran war, we have gained from the pogrom.
Formally an Igboman especially Anambra, will go to Kaduna and build hundreds of houses without building one at home and wealth you don’t see on him, he may be riding bicycle, but since the war, everybody tries to build something at home, have a base.
Well, I have said it before, our philosophy of life is “Ebe onye bi k’ona awachi” where you live you mend, but now, the time has come to build home, to build the home base and make it look like Dubai. Nigerians will see the South East turning to Dubai. All those Middle East, Asian countries, that is, the mind of the Igbo has no limit when it comes to achievements, and they will do it, and many people will begin to jealous them again. But the best thing for Nigeria is for the Igbo to use their God-given gifts. Yoruba to use their God-given gifts, Hausa to use their God-given gifts, all Nigerians to begin to use their God given gifts to develop this African leader.
Because in my view, the British were only used, British imperialism was used by God to create Nigeria and give Africans the big brother they are looking for and a rallying point. And what is more, look around your country, God endowed to you everything conceivable.
The resources given to Nigeria by the Almighty God, are unaccountable, inestimable, not half discovered yet. Your weather is clement in the extreme, you can be outside naked round the year and all that, but go and do it in Europe, winter will kill you there. Then, our physical structure. Have you heard of the earthquake, no earthquake, no volcanic eruption all over the place, no tsunami, no hurricane? Then come to resources, animal resources, anything that breaths anywhere in the world can be found here. Material resources, all kinds of trees, we have them. Human resources, many talents from many tribes.
So, God designed Nigeria for unmatched greatness, but man is messing up God’s design, but since God doesn’t make mistakes, man can run around, think he is messing up everything, eventually the will of God will prevail over the will of man and one Nigeria will grow into a super nation economically.
As one of the leaders of thoughts in Igboland, have you tried to organise your peers, the intellectuals from Igbo extraction on how to bring the wealth of Ndigbo back home?
It is not me. We have Igbo Strategic Roadmap worked out, no signature, nobody is taking credit. But it was done in two and half months of continuous work, exercise. I am sure you must have heard about Igbo Summit in Uturu (Abia State). In many ways, many people, diasporas, those at home are making plans for Igbo accelerated development. Yes, this is an idea which time has come.
Nnewi was in front of everybody. If Nnewi man wants to establish something now, he makes Nnewi capital, Abuja will be branch, Lagos will be branch, that is the model for us, the Nnewi model for development. Home, base capital, every other place branch. And there are things we have not done which we must do; we have not prayed to God. Don’t mind all these people who say they are going to mountains and valleys; we have not prayed to God. During Nigeria/Biafra war, we committed too many “Ibenne taboos” we broke too many “Ibenne taboos, “ and it is affecting us.
What is Ibenne taboo?
Ibenne taboos are social restrictions. Incest is one of them. You welcome your brother when he comes back during the war, and everybody danced ‘noo, nno”, (welcome) two weeks only, he has difficulty having a space to put his mat to sleep and not to talk about even going to the farm to cultivate something for himself, that is Ibenne taboo, denying blood relations things that should not be denied them is Ibenne taboo. So, we committed so many and broke so many taboos during the war.
We allowed blood to pour on our land, ours and even blood of strangers, those things need to be cleaned up. We need a massive united Igbo prayer where we plan it, same day, our people in Russia will know it is that day, China will know it is that day, South Africa will know it is that day.
So critical hour, every kneel on the ground praying God to forgive us and turn his face back to us.
How possible is this?
Very easy and I know when it will start that is why I told you that we have failed in some dimensions. It is in the Igbo Strategic Programme