By Tony Nwankwo
Chief (Dr.) Sylvan Olisanye Ebigwei, is Vice President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo (Worldwide), President Emeritus, Aka Ikenga, Consultant Dental Surgeon and the Iyasei Onowu (Prime Minister), Agbadagba, Okpanam, Delta State. In this interview on the state of the nation, he discusses the orchestrated agitations in the land, the Igbo presidency and says only restructuring can save the country from disintegration. Excerpts:
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar just emerged Presidential candidate of the PDP. And he has picked former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State as Vice Presidential candidate. How do you react?
Its an impressive ticket, a solid winning team that will be for the good of the country. Obi, for instance is a shrewd administrator. Aside galvanising Igbo votes at home and abroad, this ticket will be supported by Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Middle Belt and PANDEF.
These groups are for the restructuring of the country and Atiku has always been for the restructuring of the country. Peter Obi has the capacity to reposition this economy and bring it back to life as he does not believe in frivolous spending. The Nigerian economy is in tatters and nobody has been fighting corruption. This Atiku/Obi PDP ticket, has the capacity to bring economic dividends to this nation. It is a win-win combination.
The Osun State election has come and gone, yet people are talking about its credibility after Adeleke of the PDP won before the re-run. How did you see the two polls?
I don’t think what happened in Osun State is right. I base this on the premise of the various analysis given by many legal practitioners that I know, including SANs. Because there is a comparative study already done, between what happened in Ekiti State and what happened in Osun State. So, when you compare the two results, you discover that they were not fair to PDP.
I have to say I am highly apolitical. If you compare both results and the happen stances, they were not fair to PDP. The APC should have conceded defeat. Moreover, the media was awash with some legitimate ballot papers which were torn by presiding officers who tore them and ran away. We are yet to hear what happened to the INEC officials who committed that heinous electoral crime. And also the issue of vote buying, etc. that cropped up.
So, I think, to me, they were not too fair and again it is only the courts that can settle this. We should focus on what causes these crises in the country. Because if you don’t remove the reason for all these crises, politically, the country can never know peace in the political terrain. These are the issues that should be addressed.
You have seen elections in this country. How do you situate the elections in Ekiti and Osun?
Nigeria is practising primitive democracy with some primitive minded individuals in the field. They don’t have the love of this country at heart. Why should people kill and maim others in order to come and serve a nation. There must be some ulterior motives. If INEC officials are upright, and they love this country, they should be doing the needful: follow the rules of engagement, obey the rules and regulations guiding these polls. They are not doing that? Falsification of results, manipulations, trying to favour one party or the other. INEC should be independent and that is why they are called “Independent”. Whether it is your brother, sister, father or mother, in there, do the right thing and save this country from chaos. Know that you are not there for your own people, your own tribe, your group of friends or family.
You are there for the whole nation. I have witnessed what happened in pre-colonial Nigeria. I have seen what happened during the independence, post independence era. Though there were some minor skirmishes here and there, it was not as poor as it is today. Nigerian politicians have become so animalistic to the extent that they are only looking for the offices, they are not looking at the services they are going to render to the people. It is so disgraceful.
You were to be in the Senate, but you didn’t. Are you satisfied with what is happening at the National Assembly now?
I don’t like the Senate or the parliamentarians, or those representing us there. Initially, they manipulated some loopholes in the constitution to become judges in their own courts. They then started to allocate funds to themselves.
They determine how much they were going to earn and when they succeeded in doing that without any challenge they became the highest paid legislators in the world.
And if you look at the poverty index in the world, Nigeria is at the bottom of the table. Why must Nigerian legislators earn more than their counterparts in the United States, Britain and the rest of the world. It is sad. I look at our legislators as fraudulent people. I don’t believe anything coming from them.
That is my mindset and I am entitled to it. Until they put themselves to the realities of this nation, be it health, be it wealth of the common man, everything, Nigeria will continue to live a lie. Poor folk, he goes to borrow money to become a legislator, then he has become among the richest people in the country, if not the continent.
They have jettisoned the core values with which politicians can built a nation. You elect a legislator in one party, without communicating with his own constituencies, he jumps into another party for personal aggrandisement, to the detriment of the masses that elected him. It is not right.
State governors find resources to pay themselves, pay their staff, yet owe salaries of civil servants for months?
Governors are political office holders. All of them come under my above classification. They are not different from those in Abuja. That’s the reason I said our politicians have primitive minds. A primitive mind does not think of other people, he thinks only of himself and his core families.
He protects his own wards and not the generality of the animal kingdom. Until Nigerians establish strong institutions that are not being influenced by the political class, there will be no growth and no political peace in this country.
What we are witnessing is that personalities and individuals in Nigeria are stronger and greater than the establishments that are supposed to put checks and balances in the society. So, those who are in power act with impunity without fear of backlash as to their misdeamenor, the reason Nigeria is at the brink of disintegration.
Check the agitations of various socio cultural groups in the country, the churches, well meaning Nigerians who have been advocating for the complete overhaul of this nation through restructuring. Until you restructure this country, whatever shenanigans that are going on now, will eventually eclipse and cripple the country if not checked.
You are among the king makers in Delta State, and former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan just defected from PDP to APC. What impact do you think he can make?
I am sorry to say his defection will have no impact, because Uduaghan was a child of circumstance. He rode at the back of an establishment to get there. And the establishment is still as solid as ever in Delta State and that is the PDP. By leaving PDP he knows why he left. It can’t be because he wants to contest an election. He knows why he left PDP and you can see how many people that followed him. His mentors are still in PDP, the past governors are still there.
The top political gurus are still there. The constituency and the Senatorial District where he hailed to contest elections, the people are not giving him good chances of winning. His mentor and cousin, James Ibori, loved by the people because built capacity; he was able to establish the PDP as a core institution of Delta State. Just like Tinubu, he was able to raise a class of politicians who are still there today, giving him support, despite his predicaments.
But Uduaghan, he has no such colony, or clan or tribe to talk about. Surely, I don’t think he has mentored a lot of people during his eight years as governor. However, I believe Uduaghan is still a PDP man, but as Nigerian media says: if you know you are in trouble with government, you run into APC and they cover you up. That is what people believe. Deeply, he is still PDP, because PDP blood is still in him, the reason people like us are not condemning him. If you know how to save yourself, look for a place to run to. Its why APC is not having a good name today, because people now see APC as an organised broom for corrupt PDP members.
You are a core Igbo leader. You are part of the core Ohanaeze group, and there is this agitation for Igbo Presidency. Can it happen?
From what I have seen today, I cannot start asking Ndigbo to start wasting their time on Igbo Presidency. That is not what Ndigbo need now. They should have political power. And political power can only come if your group, your constituency is carried along. When you look at the psychological disposition of the Igbo man, he does not need the Presidency. The true core Igbo leader today has two positions.
One is extreme, and the other is a watered down position. For instance, the youths who did not see Biafra, when you go and tell a young man who is a trader, he will tell you, ‘what am I doing with Presidency, give me Biafra, so, I can be on my own’. He feels he is a slave in the country, he has no opportunity.
If the Presidency goes there, he is not going to be in charge, other people will control him. So, he is not going to do anything for the Igbo man. The second group of Ndigbo, are some elders, some core educated elite and businessmen, who know that they need Nigeria for the progress of an Igbo man, because they know that Ndigbo are everywhere in this country. They know that if you have Biafra, Ndigbo will stand to lose because they have done their complete analysis.
This core group of elites and enlightened people and some elders who saw the civil war believe in restructuring, repositioning this country where every region, every constituent part of this nation that make up the federating units will be semi-autonomous in terms of their business structure, in terms of management of their resources, in terms of managing their education, their health, their transportation, their culture, their identities and all that it takes to make a group of people happy and industrious and progressive. Those are the basic needs of the Igbo: to be semi-independent. Igbo exist in every segment of the world. He does not want to isolate himself.
Many of them are traders and businessmen, so they need a larger population in order to progress. So, asking them now to go into Biafra and isolate themselves, they may not succeed in doing that. This group wants the devolution of powers, whereby the Federal Government at the centre is watered down in terms of the resources they control, the fiscal burden that come in terms of using one button to control the life wire of the nation. The Igbo man does not want that. He wants complete devolution of powers whereby the Federal Government take responsibility for protecting the restructured constitution, guiding the Supreme Court wherever any constituent part had gone wrong.
The Federal Government controls diplomatic missions, the monetary policies, the military, the air force, the navy and the general security of the nation. And protects naturally the lives of every Nigerian.
This does not exclude the formation of the regional police by the federating units. Security again, should equally be assigned to the federating units. These are the things the Igbo man wants, not necessarily the Presidency. Again, the Igbo man wants the National Assembly to be a part time activity not a full time job, where representation is made at the centre based on equality of the federating units.
The National Assembly should make only certain laws irrespective of the fact that the federating units will equally have their own Constitution, that will be adequate to all the constituent parts of the various tribes that are within the federation. Aside that, the Igbo man wants the 371 ethnic groups to have influence on how they are governed or how they are treated. The 371 ethnic groups that make up this country, must have respect for one another and to discuss on equal basis with the others.
The equality of the federating units is very paramount for development, because they believe that once they have the federating units managing their affairs and the Federal Government controlling certain segment of the life of this nation, there will be respect in leadership.
The issue of corruption will subside. The issue of putting brothers and sisters in positions where they don’t merit will be checked. These are some of the mindsets of an average Igbo man and they are not alone.
I can say the same with Ohanaeze, Afenifere, PANDEX, even the Middle Belt leaders and some individuals from the core North. They are now advocating true federalism and true fiscal federalism so that this nation will continue to remain as a nation. Right now, we are a country and not a nation.