By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Professor Alphonsus Nwosu was former Minister of Health and one of the commissioned officers in the Biafran Army during the Nigeria/Biafra civil war. In this interview, he argues that the All Progressives Congress, APC-led government has performed abysmally adding that the ill-health of President Muhammadu Buhari has diminished his ability to perform. Excerpts:
How do you assess the two years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government?
I speak as a Nigerian and as a strong member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. I have sympathy for President Buhari because of his illness, but clearly, governance has taken a nose dive for the worse since 2015. If APC gets out of its propaganda mood, it will acknowledge that the value of the Naira to the value of the dollar has become unbearable in the last two years. It was stable before, it did not exceed N200 per dollar before, but now it even got to N500 per dollar.
Propaganda or no propaganda, that is not good. The cost of living has increased. Unemployment especially youth and graduate unemployment have worsened, these are bad indices for any country, and I can go on.
The excuse that it is 16 years of PDP that caused the rot is, to say the least, very irritating and annoying. This is a government that inherited GSM; this is a government that inherited debt relief which it is now enjoying, this is a government that is enjoying the Bonny Liquefied project, and it is unable to start the Brass Liquefied project.
It is about projects, it is going to be about federal colleges, it is going to be about policing, and I think that when they get out of their propaganda mood, and they evaluate it, they will see that there is so much to be done. So, I don’t rate them well at all, but I have sympathy that the man at the helm of affairs is trying to regain his health. I wish him well. It diminishes our humanity not to wish any person who is sick well.
You mention the president’s ill-health. Were things okay even before he fell ill?
I was a minister of health, Buhari’s illness is not a sudden illness. Buhari has been managing his illness before he won the election. The pressures of campaign exacerbated his illness, and the pressure of governance made it that he, therefore, requires hospitalisation. So, I will not go on that line at all except to wish him well.
But those managing him should have seen the danger of not appointing a cabinet immediately and waiting for months.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed me on May 29. As the political adviser, I was given CVs, resumes of all ministers within 48 hours to one week of his being the president. I had confidential copies of resumes of all those he wanted to make ministers. And as soon as the National Assembly was proclaimed, I got those ministers-designate cleared in the National Assembly within the first two weeks of his swearing-in so that each person knew exactly and President Obasanjo said, this is what I want you to do, we have no time to do this. And by that time, oil was less than 20 dollars per barrel not 100, not 50, not 40 but less than 20 dollars per barrel.
If everybody will get out of the propaganda mood again, go and Google oil prices in the world, you will see when you are lying. The debt of Nigeria was $30+ billion, the external reserves that Obasanjo inherited was less than $3 billion compared with $30+ billion inherited by this government. Compare with oil prices inherited by this government, compare it with the debt relief, they are now sharing the refund. Somebody made the debt relief and refund possible.
Instead of being grateful and building on, you are saying 16 years of PDP rot because you are fixated on President (Goodluck) Jonathan, you forget President Obasanjo who had eight years, you forget President Yar’Adua the most honest President to have ruled this country, who declared his assets publicly from day one, he was also ill.
So, I think we should just get out of the propaganda mood and focus on governance, if we do that, things will start to get better. But if we start the blaming game, it is your fault; it is not your fault, those of us who served previous PDP governments can defend ourselves and can acquit ourselves very well.
But that is not going to help the electorate; the electorate want roads, railways. The railway this government commissioned from Kaduna to Abuja, who built it? Was it there before?
What is your opinion on the current administration’s application of the principle of federal character?
The simple answer is no. Annoyingly no. Brazenly, they are flaunting it trying to say that nothing can happen.
Why do you say so?
I will answer you by way of illustration. Everything you see in the South-East, the protest, the IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra), everything you are seeing, the upsurge, is as a result of the flaunting of the federal character. When a person is of the same father with you, and it is clear to him, we have a saying in my town Nnewi that if a man is fighting for his father’s property and is shaking, you should subject him to a DNA test, he is not his father’s son.
The Igbo are fighting that they are bona fide Nigerians and so when you are sharing their father’s property with complete disregard for them, what can they do? Any Igbo man who is afraid to assert himself in Nigeria is not an Igbo man. That is why people are not against what IPOB, MASSOB are doing.
You make many appointments in the presidency not one Igbo is appointed. You do police recruitment; you do DSS recruitment, you promote or appoint all senior officers, and the Igbo are not there, no matter how liberated you are, no matter how Nigerian you may be, as an Igbo, it stinks to the high heavens.
So, what is your position on the agitation of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB calling for a Biafran Republic?
I was the Secretary of the Ojukwu burial committee, and I believe it didn’t come by chance. I come from the same town with Ojukwu; I am related to Ojukwu, I have associated with Ojukwu for a long time. I was with Ojukwu when he came back from Ivory Coast; I was with Ojukwu when he ran for Senate, we were living in Enugu.
I am in a position to know exactly what he thought about that. I don’t believe that the proper thing is to Igborise Biafra. Biafra was not an Igbo concept. In fact, the name Biafra did not come from the Igbo. It was two people from the present Rivers State that suggested Biafra.
People like me, who left my final year at the university and got commissioned in the Biafran Army, fought in the trenches and at the end have a completely different view of the present attempt to Igborize the Biafra concept. We are happy that non-Igbo are realising again and are back into this matter that it is a fight against injustice.
It is a fight against pogrom; it is a fight for survival that nobody has the right to wake up and murder his fellow citizen for no reason. I am now happy that it is not an Igbo thing. But just like Biafra, the authority to declare Biafra was given by Eastern Nigeria Consultative Assembly. And after that authority was given to Ojukwu, it asked him to declare at the time he did. He didn’t declare it immediately he was given the authority. You can now see the difference here.
There was a discussion, there was a meeting at Presidential Hotel Enugu, structured meeting with members from all over the Eastern Region and only a fraction was Igbo. So, I think that three essential ingredients should be sought by the present people. The consensus of everybody and the authority to do that.
Two, to define what it is all about and three to articulate how it can be obtained. People cannot be forced into it. If you like listen to them, if you don’t like, don’t listen to them. Tomorrow, you will get old and die, and it will continue, and it will get to the time when your children and your children’s children will not be able to enforce this your current arrogant posture.
IPOB directed that Ndigbo should sit at home on May 30 to honour the past Biafran heroes that lost their lives during the civil war, what is your take?
Nnamdi Kanu is entitled as a Nigerian citizen, as an Igbo person to call for whatever he desires and those who want to obey him will obey him.
The difference was that in 1966 Ojukwu was appointed and given authority as the military governor of the East and he had that authority and he even subjected himself to our deciding on that authority. So, I look at it from that angle. For me, it is not 30th May that is my problem. Even when I was in government at the federal level, I always observed (that period) with a lot of prayer to my God. I never went out; it was a day of meditation because 29th May 1966 was a terrible year for Ndigbo. That was the day that the pogrom began.
Before July 29, there was May 29, and those who don’t know what happened on May 29 are excused from whatever they do, but I carry the burden of that history and I knew that that was the day people started killing Igbo and the Igbo started running and realised that they were no longer safe.
So, for me, that day even if I feel like going out for a drink, I stay inside home holding my rosary and praying to God to cleanse our national soul from that evil that happened that 29th May. So you can see that I have a totally different attitude that has nothing to do with Nnamdi Kanu because I don’t even know when he was born. He wouldn’t even know what I am talking about.
He probably lost no one he can remember being brought home that day. It is like remembering the anniversary of your father who died in an unfortunate circumstances; it is different from what he is doing. So that is how I look at it.
Did you encourage members of your household to obey the stay at home order on 29th May?
I am one person created by God. I have told you what I will do. I will stay at home May 26, May 27, May 28, May 29, May 30 and up to June 1st. Why? Because it was from May 26 and 27 that the meetings were held, the mobilisation done on the 27th, the peoples’ burst to the centres where the killings would take place and 29th the actual killings took place and were not stopped until about June 1st when the leaders went to the governor of Northern Region then and sued for peace.
I was in my final year at the university when this was happening, and I pray for this not a matter of unforgiveness. Forgiveness is not the thing; it is cleansing, blood is not water. So for me as a human being seeking to carry back my soul to the creator, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, June 1st for me means a period of purification, a period of cleansing.