By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Second Republic politician and national Legal Adviser of defunct Nigeria Peoples Party , NPP, Chief Guy Ikokwu in this encounter urged that positive steps be taken to restructure the country, adding that the country is already at the brink of falling over.
Chief Ikokwu who turns 80 today also advises that restructuring starts as soon as possible if Nigeria will continue to exist after 2019.
Chief Paul Unongo recently challenged the Igbo to bring out their best to stand elections and alleged the Igbo rejected Zik in 1979. What do you think of Unougo’s challenge?
I saw what was published by Vanguard from Unongo’s speech. Paul Unougo is somebody I’ve been with for a long time. He was the secretary of the Nigerian Peoples Party under Zik when I was the legal adviser. We actually did a lot of going around in Nigeria. Unongo knows a lot about Zik and the Igbo but today, he’s almost at the other side of the spectrum. Although he is a Middle-Beltan, he is more associated this time with the Arewa group and at the death of Maitama Sule, a man of repute, Unongo was moved to the chairmanship position of the Northern Elders Forum.
As an intellectual, he has a lot of information and knowledge of what is happening in Nigeria but we have some differences on the structural situation, the constitutional situation, and the methodology for moving Nigeria forward. I belong to the Southern Leaders Forum made of three zones in the South with Ohanaeze representing Ndigbo, Afenifere representing South West and the South-South which is a very heterogeneous people. It is actually a mini Nigeria. So, the methodology is different.
Today, Igbo are not concerned about a Nigerian president of Igbo origin, the reason being that if Nigeria is not restructured from what it is now, the so-called Igbo person that will emerge president will be subject to the other zones. It won’t be the best Igbo candidate that will emerge but a candidate of Igbo extraction preferred by the others, and of course, you know that the others are a vast majority against the Igbo. I’m talking of the Yoruba, the South-South, the Middle-Belt and the far North.
But if the system of representation is made more judicious and then, you have a free and fairest system of choosing, things will be different. Nigerians still don’t believe that INEC is poised for a real free, fair and judicious election, it’s not as independent as it should be. Nigeria is not as federal as it should be.
So, you can see there are a lot of minuses in our present state of affairs which is what we are trying to right and the methodology of putting things right is where we have a difference of opinions. So, does Unongo believe in restructuring? He said he does. And if you then ask him, how, he now goes into the narrative of minuses and minuses and when you put all these together, you find that he believes more in the status quo.
He has this thing about Nwabueze as if he has a score to settle?
Yes. I have been interacting with him and that was why I was one of those who invited him to Zik’s event since he said he is a Zikist.
And he said Igbo didn’t vote for Zik?
If he says Igbo didn’t vote for Zik as president of Nigeria, then again it’s a minus. A greater percentage of Igbo favoured Zik to have executive powers and the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, where he was secretary and I was legal adviser and later became the chairman in old Anambra won the two states of Anambra and Imo, with Mbakwe in Imo and Jim Nwobodo in Anambra and we then campaigned in the Middle-Belt and we won Benue and Plateau which are today the core middle-belt and you know that the Middle-Belt of today has more states in the 19 northern states. So, you can see that in that time, Zik played a cardinal role in liberating the minorities in the north.
That’s why we had Solomon Lar to become the chairman of PDP when it was founded. And Jerry Gana became a federal minister and today is a leader of the middle-beltans. He was catapulted into power by us, the NPP. I was in charge of all the deliberations in the Middle-Belt that brought Jerry Gana up and he has remained constant hoping that a new evolution will bring something more credit worthy for the nation; that is a restructured polity.
There appears to be all manner of interpretations of what restructuring is? The other day in Ibadan, the South-West APC jettisoned restructuring for devolution of power to the states.
I laugh when people ask what is restructuring. What APC South-West did was like buying an 80 leaves exercise book and saying you want only one leaf out of the bunch. Those who say they do not understand what restructuring is all about are mentally indolent. Restructuring involves a lot. It involves devolution of powers and when you say devolution of powers, it means removing what you have as 68 items of the exclusive list to take them back to the residual list of the zones or to the states so that the centre can only have what it is capable of managing.
So, you only have about 22 items for the central government and with 22 items, the central government cannot be an overlord of the whole of Nigeria; a situation today where just one minister at the centre has more responsibilities and more financial autonomy than about ten states in the whole country and they have refused to re-write that scenario.
During the Nigeria-Biafra war the Biafrans used what you call research and production, and within three, four months, of the war there were refineries in the bush everywhere in Biafra land.
And Nigeria’s crude oil which is the Brent is the best because it has low sulphur content and as you refine, you immediately have diesel, kerosene and petrol and the foreign aircrafts bringing relief materials were also kind enough to bring in the materials which we used to blend the kerosene to get aviation fuel. So, in Biafra, there was no shortage of anything, not fuel, not diesel or kerosene. So, they started bombing those locations, in the bush.
Restructuring means re-engineering the polity to confirm to the present day, modern standard to move the country forward. Some say they don’t understand it but the truth is that they do but they want the status quo ante to continue because it suits them. They are prolonging the evil day.
What is the evil day?
Most state governments can’t pay salaries. Out of the 36 states, only six can pay salaries. How can anybody employing labour not pay them? If you don’t pay them, they become criminals. They do things which they shouldn’t be doing in a normal set up which is why the rate of crime is increasing in Nigeria by more than ten times and Nigerians are stealing and doing things criminally which they were not doing because it’s against our cultural ambience to do such things.
Now, people steal even pots of soup which a woman is preparing. This is outrageous, an inherent outcome of a non-restructured polity; a non-re-engineered system of living. Our culture is an elevated culture. Before the advent of the white men, there was nothing like stealing in the villages. Stealing was punishable by death.
Under the Igbo culture, if you forget something in the market, you’ll go back and still find it there. Anybody who steals it and they find the person, in our culture, they use a six-inch nail on the person’s head and drag it into the skull. You don’t steal chicken, you don’t steal goat and you don’t steal yam. Stealing is abhorrent in our culture but when the white man came, when you steal, they arrest you and then grant you bail and even tell you the name of the person that reported you.
Then, you go back and turn on that person. That was the white man’s system of governance and law which was bad. Now, we are talking about restructuring. We want to get back to the ways where crime and telling of lies were less. In our culture, you tell the truth and people will have mercy on you and do the necessary things. So, when we are talking of restructuring, it includes morality, it includes restructuring our system of education. How can somebody in Abuja be doing primary education in Bayelsa.
What does he know? Whoever says he doesn’t understand restructuring is lying if he doesn’t. Why then put it in your party manifesto? Why didn’t you explain everything in your manifesto so that whoever doesn’t understand will do? It is a big lie to pretend not to understand restructuring.
What we are fighting for today is not for ourselves but for our children and children’s children so that they will not continue to be slaves. But let me ask you, why should we borrow foreign money to balance our budget?
They say it’s necessary?
They say it’s necessary because of the abysmal implementation of our monetary policies. Could you imagine Zik, Awolowo or Ahmadu Bello borrowing money from abroad to balance budget? We must tell ourselves the truth. The 2016 budget failed. The 2017 budget in which we are now in November failed. It was not even implemented 10%. And the 2018 budget which will get into play maybe by January, February has already failed on arrival because there is not enough money from our own taxation and internal income to support it. We have to borrow to support the budget.
Why don’t we tell the people the truth? The World Bank and IMF are warning Nigeria of over borrowing and we should not use foreign loans to service domestic debt. If we take loan to support our budget and service domestic debt, who will pay for it? Our children’s children? When the polity has not yet been restructured, then, you put these burden on the future of our children. That is the pity of the current situation and anybody that is intellectually sound will tell you that.
If we improve the education of the almajiris in the north, in ten years, you will find, three, four almajiri boys as nuclear scientists. When we talk of restructuring, its all-encompassing. You talk of education and moral restructuring too.
Before Nelson Mandela died, three years before that, they went to ask him, what do you think of Nigeria. I have it right here. Mandela said, Nigeria is a pity, I cry everyday for Nigeria. Nigeria helped to emancipate us from apartheid, Nigeria helped Angola to regain freedom, Nigeria helped Malawi and Namibia to rise up; Nigeria helped East Africa; Zambia and Zimbabwe, Nigeria did all that but Nigeria cannot help herself. Nigeria is now bedevilled by corruption, inmate corruption.
Instead of being the leader of Africa and the leader of black man in the world, Nigeria has gone down and down the precipice and I cry. This is Mandela. We have the greatest concentration of Africans in Nigeria. Everybody is looking up for Nigeria to show leadership in Africa and the black race. Nigeria needs to restructure her system of governance so that recurrent expenditures cannot take 80% of our revenue every year to pay salaries, to pay allowances and book first class seats in aeroplanes and so on. That is the greatest access to corruption.
You talk about salaries. It was not like this before. So why are we having all these problems now?
I will tell you in one word. The military! The military from the first coup of Nzeogwu saw what some of the regions were doing. The military believe in the command system where you don’t question order. This is anti-democratic and they erased our democratic norms and systems and by fiat, imposed a militarised unitary system.
By so doing, Aguiyi Ironsi was killed in six months by those who thought an Igbo General has seized the whole country into his own backyard and therefore, they said, we must decentralize and to decentralize, they had to kill him. Now, after killing him, problems that now led to Aburi Accord started, because of the issues between Emeka Ojukwu and others under Gowon. They went to Aburi where they had an agreement under General Aggrey of Ghana. There, they agreed to restructure Nigeria in a decentalized way, including the armed forces.
But the Aburi Accord was not kept?
Gowon and his advisers, the British did not keep it because there was to be a conference in Lagos by the civilians to adopt what the military did on how to restructure Nigeria. But Gowon cancelled that conference and that was the exact situation that caused the disagreement and after that, we went into war in order to stop the Eastern region and Ojukwu from having a formidable control. Before the war, Gowon restructured Nigeria by creating 12 states: six in the north and six in the south. But having done that, did he now give the states their residual powers? He didn’t because he was going to fight a war.
Things seem funny in Nigeria because the system of governance is wrong. It does not give the states the capacity to generate the amount to pay salaries. Anybody, whether a trader, an organisation or government that cannot pay its workers their monthly due after their own hard work is absolutely mischievous. It’s a devious system, a wrong system and has to be demolished for something better. Only six states are able from their internal generation and so on to produce the salary of their workers.
But there were the bail-out funds and Paris club refunds to states?
The central government has not refunded all the Paris Club money. They are doing it in instalments. Some states have defaulted even in the ones they got. The system is so bad.
In the last six to ten years, no less than 30 governors have been mentioned by the EFCC of corruption but have they been prosecuted? Some of them defected from their parties to the one that is in power today. Look at the Dasuki thing, they don’t have the availability of how the monies were distributed. All those who got that money who are still in the PDP are being prosecuted and those who got that money and decamped to APC are not being prosecuted.
Is it just? Is it holistic, is it being done in a fair way that the ordinary man will look and say, yeah, you’re doing the right job? Look at even the directors of the pension fund, the Mainagate. If you read the details, it’s mind-boggling. If the Mainagate had happened in Europe or America, all those who were mentioned in it would have resigned and accounted for the money.
But not in Nigeria. Look at what happened between Abba-Kyari and the Head of Service at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting. They had altercations before the Vice President but the second time, they were rubbing shoulders and laughing together. What kind of country is this? Our neighbouring countries are watching. So, is prosecution by the anti-graft agency holistic, fair, judicious? You prosecute some and leave some.
That is the issue. Are we making progress? I was one of those who spent one and half years in Enugu prisons with condemned criminals; not having been jailed for corruption or by the courts but we were there because Buhari’s government then showed us military might and said all those gladiators of political parties should go to jail. I was chairman of a political party. The NSO then came and interviewed me and audited our account. It was the first time a political party was auditing its accounts.
So, PDP is paying its own price now?
PDP did wrong. There was impunity galore in PDP and people did what they liked with money.
There was no control. But was it only the PDP that spent money for elections? The answer is no. The APC spent money too and they have not told us who contributed the money for their elections. They said the money at Ikoyi was the money generated somehow. Have they told us how?
The money is alleged to be security fund meant for the NIA?
But at NIA, you have to say what money you’ve got, at least, to your superiors and how you are securing that money if it is outside the Central Bank. But they did not tell their superiors? They were controlling the money between themselves and their wives which is why they got a court order taking over the property. So, you don’t even know who owns the property. Everybody is denying ownership of the property. It’s only in a country like Nigeria that you get this kind of thing.
I was talking about education and I tell you, in sixty years of hegemonic rule in Nigeria, it has given them 50 years of resilience to be educated. Those who are in leadership positions in the north are not illiterates. They have used these 50 years to be educated. They are more educated than their founding fathers.
If you check the nineteen northern governors, some of them are engineers, some are lawyers, Tambuwal is a lawyer and has been the speaker of the House of Representatives. Then, talk of El-Rufai who has served left, right and centre. When you go round, you’d see the improvement. Take the Governor of Katsina, Masari, he’s been the speaker of the House of Representatives. And they are there to tell their people the truth and to do the right thing.
In Sokoto for instance, the Sultan of Sokoto and Governor Tambuwal agreed there should be a girl-child education. When you educate a girl and she has children, she ensures her children get education. If you take the almajiris in Kano, in Katsina, in Sokoto who at the moment are not educated and not from thorough-bred families to school, they will change for the better. Jonathan did the right thing by establishing almajiri colleges and schools and I can tell you, if these are given the requisite education for ten years, don’t be surprised that among them will emerge nuclear scientists, computer scientists and more.