Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife served as governor of Anambra State during the ill-fated Third Republic. In this interview, he said that President Muhammadu Buhari disappointed many Nigerians when he declared June 12 as democracy day as nobody ever expected such a good decision. He also speaks on the need for emergency restructuring before 2019 elections
What is your reflection on June 12, has the country learnt any lesson from it?
We have not learnt any lessons from June 12. But from what I hear now, it is as if nothing happened, anything can repeat itself many times over before we learn a lesson. It was a traumatic period especially for those of us who were directly involved.
As for the importance of it, as you know a Muslim/Muslim ticket cleared the whole thing including Kano where the opponent came from. So, nobody knows the whole truth but I was close to Babangida, and he was telling me that the military was opposed to (the declaration of Moshood Abiola as the winner of the election). He said: ‘Will you like me to be killed?’ As if he had recognised the victory of Abiola and that if he (Abiola) is made President, people will kill him and kill the new president. So I said ‘for this one, it is your job to do it but protect yourself as you do it. Of course, he tried, it didn’t work.
So if we stand 25 years from now and look at this decision, it will be commended, many people will commend it, nobody will be opposing it. And now nobody is against the President except that most people don’t believe that it was done in the interest of the nation. Some people think it is some plot to harvest Yoruba votes in 2019. It may not be, and it may also be.
But how do you look at the President’s gesture?
I look at it as self-serving. From the kind of things we are seeing coming from the same direction, this one stands out as odd not like what should be expected from there. This is too positive to be expected from there. What normally you see is some negative actions that are not popular, but this one is a good one.
With what has happened, how do you think we can improve on the 2019 elections?
That is where one problem exists. Somebody conducted that election that was so good, and I thought that is the problem where we are thinking narrowly or about our self-interest. If we are looking at June 12 and we recognise the significance of June 12, the person who was the INEC man who conducted that kind of election should have been remembered along with Abiola and Kingibe and Fawehinmi. That is one indication that it was not comprehensive by its own merit.
Do you think that the President was right to make such a declaration without passing through the National Assembly?
I think a good decision should be applauded but should be done well. I am sure any mistake can even be corrected now. Of course, I am not a lawyer, I have heard of posthumous award, and I don’t know what was wrong with this one. But in a place where things are working, the government, executive especially, and the legislature will take glory in doing the right thing and then do it together. But this one was not done so. I have read comments, but as I said, I am not a lawyer, so I am not versed enough to comment on that.
Recently former INEC Chairman raised the alarm that the signals coming from the conduct of party congresses were frightening, what do you expect in 2019?
Well, 2019 will come and go, and by the grace of God, Nigeria will remain, and many of us will be alive. But without restructuring, I don’t think that we can sail out of 2019 happily. I have many things including a statement that the only thing that will stop the president from winning is death. Waoh, of course, he will not say it himself, and people who like him will not say that, but some people think that they can boast about rigging (elections). In the context of Nigeria today, anybody who is talking about winning in such circumstances is talking about rigging, because there is no record to support a win.
What will be your advice to ensure there is a smooth election in 2019?
I don’t care if there is no election next year. My advice is that the president considers starting a process of emergency restructuring. What is emergency restructuring? It is a process of taking all the advantages we have. We have regional Constitutions available for the regions; we have Federal Constitution available for the Federal Government. We have recommendations virtually on every issue even that of the 2014 National Conference. I think if the president says let’s do emergency restructuring, let’s form a sovereign national body and entrust it with this responsibility of emergency restructuring, let’s give them powers that if there are emergencies, let them find the solution out of the emergencies so that even if they overshoot their time and the 2019 election is not easy to conduct, they pass it and continue.
Emergency restructuring will make sure that Nigeria survives. It will give Mr. President the greatest name. You know the former South African President, Nelson Mandela said his anger with Nigeria was that Nigeria is not giving Africa a chance or respectability. Africa will not achieve anything except it is achieved by Nigeria according to Nelson Mandela.