•‘Humphrey Nwosu has not been himself since June 12, 1993’
BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY
A former Minister of Health, Prof. ABC Nwosu, in this interview, speaks on the posthumous award given to late Chief MKO Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi by President Muhammadu Buhari, describing it as good for the polity. He also says what is uppermost in the Igbo agenda is restructuring and not Igbo presidency just as he explains why Igbo elders disagree with the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, separatist’ struggle.
What is your take on the posthumous awards given to the late Chief MKO Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi by President Muhammadu Buhari?
I am yet to see anybody who has said that the action is not good. People have simply said how the action could have been better and not that the action is not good. For example in my view, the wrong was not just done to the Abiola family, it was a wrong done to the Nigerian people who collectively voted for Abiola; so the apology should have been to the Nigerian people. I, for example, raised the issue of my colleague, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, he has not been the same since the June 12, 1993 episode. Two of us were privileged to serve as commissioners in the government of Colonel Omeruah and in the university. And we lived six houses away from each other in Enugu; he has not been himself since 1993. But he bears no grudge as you can see in his letter to government on his invitation to the Abiola investiture.
The matter is about democracy and I had said that in terms of May 29 and June 12, I prefer June 12 because June 12 reinforced the central theme of democracy, the sanctity of elections and the central role of free and fair elections. Because it is only through that process that the people to whom sovereignty belongs can take that sovereignty and give to others to preside over them. And that is the essence of June 12 and they did that on June 12, innovatively. Option A4 was clear. So it deserves to be our Democracy Day. Even if the outcome has been different in terms of who emerged, it would still have been Democracy Day. So the lesson there is, let no government ever short-change Nigerians on elections.
By accepting June 12 as Democracy Day, we are rejecting election rigging, we are rejecting violence, we are rejecting vote buying and intimidation. We want the people to freely exercise their franchise. That is a day that belongs to the people and the people will give votes to whoever they want. Anybody who is acting in a manner that short-changes the people in this process has not really imbibed the spirit of June 12.
You are an elder in Igbo land but it seems your people have not been united to fight for the cause of Ndi’ Igbo. What is the problem?
The Igbo problem has always existed. The Igbo are not united, the Yoruba are not united, the Hausa are not united, the Fulani are not united. The problem is that there is a basic fear of the Igbo which existed before the war, worsened by the coup and then the civil war. And after that, there is a general fear of allowing the Igbo person to really exercise his full citizenship as a Nigerian. So I don’t think the problem is that Igbo are not united, Igbo are as united as they can be. We were united at the Abacha conference when they went and asked for rotational presidency.
We were united in our support for resource control. We were united in our support for devolution of power, so they are as united as any other group is. I think the basic issue is that, for some reasons, the Igbo man is all over the country doing his business but when he ventures into politics, he employs another Igbo man; it raises more heart aches for others than when others are there and they employ their own people. So, gradually, people will learn to be more accommodating to Igbo exercising their full citizenship rights as Nigerians. But, as for unity, they are more united than any other group.
But why are Igbo leaders not supporting IPOB?
IPOB, MASSOB, I class them as neo-Biafran movement. They are neo. Many of us were in secondary school when Nigeria became independent. I was at the University of Ibadan in the crisis after the coup and fled to University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The set before me graduated in 1967 but those of us who were to graduate after them were all in the Biafran Army and did not graduate until 1971. So we know about the true Biafra and the neo Biafra. The true Biafra was declared by General Odumegwu Ojukwu who had authority over Eastern Region. And that authority was given to him by then Eastern Nigeria Consultative Authority and I can tell you that the name Biafra was suggested not by Igbo, it was suggested by non-Igbo in the Eastern Region.
So I know about that and the civil war and how it ended. What has happened is that because of the marginalization, because of the way the Igbo were left to lick their wounds, because, instead of trying to help them to rebuild after the war, everything was piled on them. But God has helped them through their own qualities to re-emerge and settle themselves. Many are still grumbling about it and, because of that grumbling which has become so glaring among the youths, the youths have now found their expression in the neo- Biafra movement. The difference is that the youths have refused to take guidance from the elders, those who were part and parcel of Biafra. Those who were part of the coup are still alive. Those who fought the war as commanders are still alive; it is only recently that the leader, Ojukwu, died. MASSOB did not take permission from Ojukwu even if they related with him very well. I am not sure that if Ojukwu were alive, that perhaps Kanu would have taken directive from Ojukwu. So this is the basic difference.
The people want to do it, so the elders just steered clear of the neo-Biafran movement. But it is a movement that should be fuelled by the energy of the people, have a cause and then be directed by the elders. That is the pure Igbo norm. In any society in Igbo, we have authority structures, we have traditional rulership; we have the youths who are responsible for movements. So, because of that, nobody is disturbing them. But they cannot bully anybody into the cause which many people don’t understand. They want to create a Biafra, it is their right. There are those who have been part of Biafra who don’t see that Biafra as the answer; those people also have a right. And no amount of youths can bully people who don’t want.
I think the thing is to go back to define it. There is a book written by one of those who played a major role in Biafra. He is not Igbo but he was Ojukwu’s Minister from the beginning to the end and he fled with him to Ivory Coast. And he did something on Ojukwu called ‘Ojukwu a Rebel with a Cause’. There was something he was fighting for. He was fighting from preventing his people from being wiped out of the face of the earth. Those who were fighting on the other side didn’t believe it but those who Ojukwu was leading believed in it and Ojukwu stayed throughout and that was why they continued to honour Ojukwu when he returned from exile and continued to honour even after death. We should define a cause before we start fighting. I think that is the problem with the current struggle by the youths.
Igbo presidency/call for restructuring
The top Igbo agenda is restructuring, presidency is secondary. Presidency is simply a matter of pride that we are also Nigerians and entitled to be President. That is it, the Igbo man is not going to progress in Nigeria or retrogress in Nigeria because he is President or he is not President. Everything that has been thrown at him has shown that he can progress or retrogress depending on his own capacity. But the Igbo man wants to be President to show that he has a very significant population and that he has contributed significantly to the growth of Nigeria and will not allow himself to be treated as a second class citizen. The Igbo soul abhors injustice; even the colonial masters who bought Igbo slaves learnt that you cannot suppress the Igbo soul. Restructuring is there for everybody. Restructuring will benefit the West, the North, the South and everybody.
Restructuring was what we agreed, federalism. I keep saying that what we are seeing did not exist before 1967, before 1966 coup. You will remember that Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister, how many times did Chief Awolowo go to Lagos to ask for bailout to pay salaries? How many times did the great Zik or M.I Okpara, or Ahmadu Bello go to Lagos, to his subordinate, and Nigeria progressed? What happened was that because of the Nigeria-Biafra war, powers were concentrated in General Gowon (then Head of State) and the Federal Government to enable the Federal Government defeat Biafra. The war ended in 1970. From 1970 till date is enough time for us again to decentralize, to get back to what existed.
There are details which can be worked out, but the main thing in restructuring is devolution of power from the Federal Government to the federating units. When you see the Federal Government initiating feeding programs in primary schools in Nigeria, it is a recipe for inefficiency, corruption and failure. But if you let federating units, local governments handle the feeding of their children, it makes for more accountability. That is just one example. Look at even health, when I was growing up, we had colonial masters, there were dispensaries. We were treated at government dispensaries anytime there was the need for it; we had Empire Day. Primary schools were there. I think they were only two federal schools in Nigeria then, King’s College Lagos and Queen’s College Lagos.
Most of the government colleges in the regions were owned by the regions. Most of the best secondary schools were owned by missions in the regions. The Federal Government did something good after the war by making Federal Government Colleges Unity Colleges. But all the trust fund here and there to give money to universities, to give money to everybody is again is recipe for inefficiency and corruption. So when you go for devolution, the money at the centre is less, uncompleted projects at the centre becomes less. Stealing at the centre becomes less and you will now see people going back to develop their villages and communities and that is how you can have massive development. So, restructuring is not just good for the South-East, it is good for everybody. We can go back to what we did best, community development.
Communities will challenge themselves to make secondary schools in their villages the best. That happened a lot. It is only those who are afraid that, when they make money they use that money to go and buy cars while those around them are wallowing in poverty, that oppose restructuring. And people don’t call them to account because it is not local money, it is Federal Government money. So it terms of style of living, values, restructuring will do so much for this country.
We are approaching 2019, how do you review the state of the nation?
The state of the nation worries me. Nigeria is not about APC or PDP or politicians struggling for power. Nigeria is about Nigerians and Nigerians are in the vast majority. So it not a matter of what APC thinks or what PDP thinks, it is what Nigerians think. And Nigerians are in the better position to assess yesterday, today and tomorrow. I think it is safe to believe that Nigerians are completely settled in the fact that today is much worse than yesterday and that it can be better. Let me take three areas in which this government wishes to be judged, number one is security. Security is not about Boko Haram. Nigerians gave the APC government credit for negotiating and bringing back the Chibok girls but some of them are still out there. It is important really to say ‘I did not cause it’. When you come on seat, if you cannot solve the problem, you should have left the person who created the problem to stay and solve it.
The Buhari government deserves some credit for degrading Boko Haram but when Lai Muhammed goes about saying they have technically defeated Boko Haram, it is really irritating; especially to those who are constantly losing loved ones from Boko Haram insurgency. But what is extremely worrisome is the number of killings arising from herdsmen and farmers’ clashes and the inaction of government about it; it is not an opposition talk, it is reality talk. Anybody who does not see it is not being fair to this country. It has never happened in this country that Catholics worshipping were in danger and then priests killed on the altar; that we are not outraged by it shows that we are gradually losing our humanity. The same is with if it happens in a mosque.
There are sacred places that we don’t go to; there are things that if they happen, those people should be arrested immediately to serve as an example to others. As we talk now, none of them has been arrested. And perhaps the most upsetting to me, personally, is the attack on the National Assembly. Though this was not the first time it happened, it happened under the PDP but then it was within the party, members were quarrelling with themselves. We did not see hired thugs going on to carry the mace. Again, that our sense of outrage is not activated is funny. And I still remember the footages we saw about those who took the mace, their faces, the route through which they escaped is only accessible to the top leadership of the National Assembly. Who opened that gate for them? The police should be able to name them and deal with the matter. When the police are silent about some of these things, it is worrisome. This is not healthy for our democracy. Every Nigerian must feel secure.