By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It was a unique and bold intervention from the business community into the ongoing debate on restructuring that has lately engaged Nigerians.
Mr. Euriel Chukwudum, chairman of Denis Hotel Abuja and businessman of repute, with his intervention brought to the fore, the much-unspoken issues of capacity, citizenship and competition in the debate on restructuring.
Chukwudum, a leading light in the hospitality business in Abuja spoke during a courtesy call at Vanguard Media Limited.
Born on October 1st, 1960 when Nigeria had its independence in Port-Harcourt in the former Eastern Region, he grew his business acumen in Kaduna, headquarters of the former Northern Region and is presently resident in Lagos from where he controls his businesses.
The incident of his birth and his sojourns round the three pre-Independence regions has burdened him with enough love for Nigeria and devotion to the sustenance of the country as an entity.
Chukwudum, however, laments the staunching of the capacity of the ordinary Nigerian.
It is a lamentation that he kept on bemoaning for the about forty minutes he spoke.
He visited Vanguard, the day the newspaper published a revealing interview with the Northern leader and elder-statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassi who had given a Northern perspective to the argument against restructuring. There were issues of backwardness in the north and the need for a true federal character policy to help uplift them.
Responding, Chukwudum said:
“The question is that since they knew this and structured the country to favour the north since 1953 what is the resultant effect? If you go to the North poverty is still there, and negative indicators are more prevalent there. What you don’t have you cannot get it unless you stoop and learn from the person who knows.
“There is nothing as good as competition. If you don’t give room for competition, you are not helping matters and because they have not created room for competition that is why the North is still backward. Competition will wake the weak, and he will move.”
Chukwudum was in a way calling for the review of all the policies that don’t give room for competition.
Noting that the weighted political advantages of the North have not helped Nigeria as an entity, he wondered:
“The only problem is that we continue to encourage weakness. In osmotic pressure, we learn that the strong draws the weak, but the problem we have today is that the weak draws the strong, bringing us back. When you want to grow, somebody is sinking you down, and that is why Nigeria cannot grow, and all that we are having is stunted growth. That is the consequence of holding capacity down and allowing weakness to thrive.”
Bemoaning that the situation has left the country seemingly prostrate, the hotelier said:
“The economy is down; nothing is moving, poverty everywhere, agitations here and there. Complaints from all corners and you sit down and ask yourself what’s going on because things weren’t like this before. Now, people continue to say that the country should be restructured, restructured. When you diagnose the problem of Nigeria, we are the architects of our misfortune,” he said in a pointed rebuff of the argument against restructuring.
“We have all the potentials that every country like ours can utilise to get to greater heights. But an anomaly started and people did not correct it.” And the anomaly is the failure to reward merit which ultimately engenders capacity which will lead to growth.
Ventilating reasons for restructuring of the polity, he said:
“The way Nigeria is structured, we all know that it is lopsided in the sense that it does not encourage merit and because it does not encourage merit, what will you expect?”
He gives an example of the educational system in which quota is used for admission. According to him suppressing your best because of the need to promote the weak inevitably leads to the weakening of the entity.
According to him the advancement of merit will lead to the advancement of the capacity of the entity which in the end will lead to the overall good of all.
“If a boy writes JAMB and scores 150 and does not get admission and somebody who scores 120 gets admission into the university the boy who scored 120 will grow up believing that his country does not encourage merit and this breeding of negative thinking is not good for our national psyche and growth. You can imagine the effects on him.
“Merit has its own values when it comes to growth. When you structure the country, and you structure it to be merit driven, what you will get at the end of the day, you will recognise capacity and which is what the country lacks today.”
Noting the way the country has suppressed capacity as a growth factor, he said:
“The country has not recognised capacity, and because of this, we cannot grow. You cannot have growth, and that is why today when they call Malaysia and all those countries; all those countries are not operating the same structures like us. In all those places, their policies encourage capacity; it encourages merit and merit is the only thing that will enhance capacity and capacity is the only thing that will guarantee growth, and when you have growth you don’t need to start looking (depending) on government.
Asked why in the face of its potentials Nigeria has not encouraged these attributes, he replied:
“Why are all these things not tenable in the country? It is because of fear of division, fear of domination and then other things that go with it which encourage laziness because mediocrity will always encourage laziness like the quota system and all that.”
Originally from Azia, in Ihalia Local government area of Anambra State and perhaps on account of his sojourns around the country narrows down the problems of the country to the issue of citizenship, insisting that citizenship should be acquired after five years of settling in any part of Nigeria.
He espouses the philosophy of what he describes as democratic citizenship.
“The unity of the country is not what anyone wants to compromise because that is our strength, then address the issue of citizenship and residency. Make every citizen a democratic citizen.
“Wherever you are in the country is your place; yes there are indigenes of that place but once you reside in that place from three to five years, you become an indigene of that place, and that will give room for people to explore,” he said.
Chukwudum adds that giving Nigerians citizenship of wherever they are will explode the potentials of Nigerians wherever they are in the country.
“When you encourage capacity you will find that you will go a long way, you will have residency, and you can be able to explore all the things you can do in that area, and when you explore, you will pay your tax, you will do everything and it will come to the advantage of where you are operating.
“Everyday people continue to talk corruption, corruption, but the way the country is structured is the main problem because it encourages compromise. Bring any good leader today, even Nelson Mandela from his grave or even Barack Obama, he must fail, because he would be like others because the structure we are operating today encourages compromise.”
Asked his reaction to the agitation of Nnamdi Kanu for the exit of the Igbo from Nigeria, he pointed at the discrimination of Ndigbo in the polity noting in particular how quota system has grieved the younger elements.
“You will see when they ask, and you don’t give them any reasonable answer he will become a saboteur of the system; it is a psychological thing, and that is one of the reasons I say address the issue of citizenship, residency and we will wipe away all these things, and you allow capacity to lead.”
Chukwudum is, however, hopeful that hope remains for the country. He downplayed the National Assembly’s rejection of the devolution of power last week saying:
“My understanding is that they deferred it and that they don’t want to be compelled because of hate speeches.”