Dr. Sylvan Olisanye Ebigwei (MON), consultant dental surgeon, is President-Emeritus, Aka Ikenga, the Igbo socio-political organisation. In this interview, he says the Igbo’s vote for former President Goodluck Jonathan was calculated to unite the former Eastern Region. He wants MASSOB to change its name to be relevant. He also spoke on other national issues. Excerpts:
By Tony Nwankwo
The North wanted power and they now have it. What is your take on that?
Nigeria is too complex for one section to usurp all that the country has without reaction. Nigeria today is not the Nigeria of yesterday. There is a level you can pursue a man, the man will stop and start pursuing you. So, whatever the North wants today, if they want Nigeria to be one, they must make sure that there is equilibrium in governance and appointments in critical areas.
Already, there is disequilibrium in what is happening today and we cannot hide the fact. And that was why the South-South met last week. The President is from the North, the Chief Judge is from the North, the Senate President is from the North, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is from the North. This cannot go on because people will react. So, if the Northerners think they can do this and get away with it, Nigerians will react.
Period of honeymoon
Right now, I can say the period we are in now is a period of honeymoon for Buhari. By the time he sets up his government, people will start looking into critical areas.
Buhari government has been described as government of probes. How far can be go?
If you want to probe, probe everybody, because Jonathan merely ruled this country for five years or thereabout. By the time he came in, Nigeria was in tatters Nothing was functioning. The roads were not there, power was not there, people were just stealing money anyhow. All these stealing did not start during the Jonathan era. Jonathan came in and met a rotten Nigeria. Where was he to start from? It was the people, who destroyed this country that surrounded him. Cleaning up Nigeria was an enormous task. Even those arrested for corruption, how many were jailed? EFCC will make a lot of noise, take suspects to court and that’s the last we hear because the judiciary itself was not helping matters. Had it been we had a strong judiciary, people would sit up. But when people steal, they say, okay, this is my own, this is for law enforcement, the other one is for the judiciary. With that mindset, people started acting with impunity because they know that criminals are not being visited with adequate punishment. That was the reason Jonathan did not succeed.
A cursory look around shows some parastatals like NEPA suddenly come to life. We know Buhari government has not awarded any contract yet. What happened?
People are wondering what is happening. It shows how evil and how rotten people have gotten in this country. Buhari government is not in place, it has not run any budget, he has not spent a dime in re-positioning PHCN, but look at us today. In my office, I have been enjoying uninterrupted power supply for nearly three weeks now, thereby saving money to feed my family. What it portrays is that during Jonathan’s administration, no matter how Jonathan tried, he was being sabotaged.
Men of evil abound in this country. And because of this sabotage, despite all the billions of dollars poured into power generation, the power is there, gas is there, but evil people refused that the country should work. But they know what they are gaining. It shows complete sabotage. And these are the people, the present administration should fish out. If they did it to sabotage Jonathan, they can still do it to sabotage the government of Buhari.
Looking critically at Buhari’s appointments so far, people say he is side-tracking the Igbo. How do you view this?
Buhari is being afraid of what happened to Jonathan. If I am in Buhari’s shoes, I will not appoint people who will betray me. Because Nigeria today is not like Nigeria of yesterday. People are no more honest. The value system of the average Nigerian is poor. We don’t trust people. Critical appointments have not been made. The appointments he is making are of domestic issues, people who will surround him. You don’t get people who will stab you at the back and put them to follow you. No. Jonathan did that and they stabbed him. That was why he got angry and told them he had had enough. That was why he threw in the towel even before they finished counting the votes. Because he discovered that he was totally betrayed. So, Buhari knew what happened to Jonathan, he would not want it to happen to him.
MASSOB is being threatened everywhere. What is their undoing?
As President of Aka Ikenga, I told MASSOB that there is no need for a man to run a good race but outside the track. Igbo man is being marginalised, we know that. But when you want to fight for your rights, you must find a decent way to do it, so that you can have the sympathy of all.
Many of us do not believe in the disintegration of this country. I told them then that there is no other country they can fit in except in Nigeria. I told them, this agitation you are doing, find another name and put on it. You will have the sympathy of everyone in Igbo land because without pressure we cannot get what we want in this country. Change the name MASSOB. What is in a name? Find another name, continue with your agitation, so that you can have followership among Ndigbo. No Igbo man wants to get separated from this country.
You are President Emeritus of Aka Ikenga. We hear there is an agenda to unite the Igbo from all the Igbo speaking South. What impact can this have?
As President of Aka Ikenga, our mind set then for supporting Jonathan was to use his platform to extend true hands of fellowship towards the old constituents of the old Eastern Region. Aftermath of the civil war, the core Igbo became almost a pariah to their brothers and sisters of old Eastern Nigeria, as well as the Ikweres in Rivers and the Anioma people in Delta State. What we did was to show solidarity with the Ijaws so that in future the Ijaw man will know that when they had a problem, in their hour of need, the core Igbo man came to his aid. That was our mindset.
So whatever transpired, whether he ruled well or did not rule well it has worked, because you can now hear the South-South are meeting with the South East, etc. As recent as last week, there was a meeting of the whole of Southern Region of Nigeria to look into their common interest in the present dispensation.
And they came out with a communiqué, advising the President what to do and the negative aspect of his administration so far. So that solidarity is working, that unity is working, that brotherhood is working.
Are you saying the Igbo have no regret over how they voted at the last elections?
Yes, the Igbo have no regrets. Some people are saying the Igbo lost, No. To us, the Igbo didn’t lose because the mindset of supporting Jonathan is different from the mindset of quite a lot of people. Igbo didn’t lose under Jonathan, they had a fair share of governance.
Fair share of governance
The only problem was that many government appointees of Igbo extraction were selfish. They did not empower their own people. Look at the North, the express rail between Kaduna and Abuja, that will open up the whole area and bring Kaduna and adjoining states nearer to the seat of power. Roads were constructed in the North. Look at the Almajiri schools. Nobody ever thought the almajiris should go to school. These are all the handiwork of Jonathan. Look at the Abuja Airport, Kaduna Airport, not to talk of Murtala Mohammed Airport. They have all been elevated and modernized. A lot was achieved. Anyim Pius Anyim was SGF, and that was a powerful position. You can use the position to build up capacity for your own people. So, you cannot blame Jonathan if those he put in power could not use such positions to better their own people.
I passed through Asaba bridge, I see that work is going on at the second Niger Bridge. Before now, it was all rhetoric. During the Obasanjo era, it was all rhetoric, but now you can see that something is being done.