ABC Nwosu: Those Who Love Nigeria Are Happy Elections Were Postponed
• Blame Jega For Crisis Confronting Polls
Prof. ABC Nwosu, former minister of health, former political adviser to former president Obasanjo shared his thoughts on current national matters with the media last week. The Guardian reports the conversation.
How do you appraise the circumstances that led to election postponement?
THANK God for the postponement. To me, those who were against the postponement are like the woman who was not bothered whether the child lived or died in the case before King Solomon when she said ‘divide it, let each one take her half’. But the real mother of the child said ‘no, let it go’. We, that Nigeria means something to, are happy for the postponement. We, that Nigeria means something to, are begging the opportunists in the Southeast, the South-south, the North and in the West not to divide this country with their opportunism. We should do the right thing that will enable this country to develop, have stability and peace. Grabbing power at all costs and dishing out patronage, left, right and center, and accumulating obscene wealth by whoever is not the purpose God created this country. On the elections, it is for the people to choose who they want to lead them. That’s why, centuries ago, it was said that the basic tenet of democracy is that nobody is good enough to lead another person without that person’s consent. People should look for our consent and we should be allowed to give that consent to who we want. We cannot be bullied into giving the consent by threat of force, or threat of incumbency or insecurity. We should give that consent to whoever we want.
Many Nigerians believe that two major issues still bedeviling the country are insecurity and corruption. Do you share that view?
The insecurity problem worries me because I am a victim and it has left a mark on my psyche. If it hadn’t been for insecurity, I would have graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1968. I was a scholarship student. I had to run to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I had to leave Nsukka with many of my colleagues to join the Biafran Army. Many were killed. And then, when we came back to Nsukka, we were not allowed to graduate in 1970. We graduated in 1971.
So, insecurity frightens me and I hate those promoting insecurity in Nigeria. If you realise how insecurity arose in 1966, it is not different from what is happening now. This is sectional insecurity. You cannot threaten anybody because he is not from your ethnic group. The killings then had been ethnic based. This is the first time I would be speaking out strongly on such a matter because people don’t know how I feel. You cannot come and attack me doing my legitimate business because I am Igbo. I am not Igbo only. I am also a Nigerian. I am an African. I am a human being created by God. So, when insecurity comes like that, it is offensive to me. And now, you see people threaten others that they will cut their throats if the elections do not go their way; and all Nigeria is worried about is Boko Haram. What of the insecurity that comes with a person living outside his ethnic enclave, taking his children, some belongings and filing on the road? What kind of a country is that?
The Boko Haram issue, Nigeria allowed it to fester. Nigeria is now ready to fight it and you can see recent successes. What I felt about it when we were in the National Conference, we always urged the president and the armed forces to do something to control it. I am happy that the National Assembly is now congratulating them for doing something. I will like all Nigerians to unite when it concerns security and the armed forces. Certain things are beyond politics. The armed forces of a country are number one. I also expect that they should be able to deal with this matter of Boko Haram just like they dealt with the matter of MEND.
Why do we have sectional insecurity instead of a national challenge?
Well, I am a Nigerian, but I’m also Igbo. We held a meeting in Abuja recently. You would have seen the communiqué. It is the Igbo coming from all the 19 states of northern Nigeria worried about their security. Why should the Igbo be worried about their security? Have you heard of all 19 states in the North worried about their insecurity in Enugu or talking about insecurity? Or are there no northerners in other parts of Nigeria? So, it is a sectional thing. We have seen it. I am old enough to know the incidents. In 1966, I was already an undergraduate at Ibadan, in third year, getting to graduation. I was in senior secondary school when Nigeria got independence in 1960. So, I know it is a sectional thing. Why should anybody, either for ethnicity or religion, fear for his life in any part of this country? If we can’t address it, then we cannot progress as a nation. So, insecurity is a sectional thing in Nigeria and it should stop.
If you have read the reason for the coup in 1966, corruption was one. There was a coup based on corruption – the Ifeajuna coup, which many call Nzeogwu coup. Ifeajuna’s manuscript is clear on it. Wole Adegboyega and Ifeajuna, two of them were the masterminds of the coup. We have evidence. The coup of Murtala Muhammed was again to stop corruption. The coup against Shagari, which brought Buhari was again corruption. So, corruption didn’t start today. But I read a publication on Transparency International Corruption Index; it is like when we were in government, the index was even worse than now. I think that corruption is corruption. Anybody found abusing his office, stealing public money should go to jail. That’s the law. You don’t need a coup. All we need is to strengthen the anti-corruption agencies. If need be, set up special courts so that corruption cases will be tried speedily and those found guilty sent to jail. But I am not hearing anything like that. All I am hearing is ‘I will stop corruption’. You don’t stop corruption by suspecting somebody and getting him out and shooting or flogging him publicly.
One of the things Obasanjo did for which I will always give him that credit was that on May 29, 1999, when he appointed me, he was intent on setting up an anti-corruption agency. That was ICPC. Later on, EFCC was established. You already have the Police. The three should be reinforced. In case of the Police, they should have a special arm. It is not bad having three of them checking each other and making sure that there is no action by anyone in favour of anybody. To complement that, set up a special court. We don’t have one now. If what other contending parties struggling for the presidency are saying is that ‘we will do this for the EFCC, that for ICPC or the Police’, or send a bill to the National Assembly or set up special courts that when people are caught, the onus will be on them to prove that they are not corrupt, then we are discussing specifics. What we see is where a person comes up and says ‘I will stop corruption’ and my question is how? All he says is ‘trust me’. No, I won’t trust anybody.
But many people believe that the present administration has not been seen to be fighting corruption head on. Many even say the EFCC has gone docile even as allegations of corruption and financial embezzlement fly around NNPC and all that. Do you think President Jonathan has actually fought corruption the way it should?
People can as say anything they like about the judiciary. At a stage, people were saying that our military doesn’t act; that our military was running away from Boko Haram, that it was not equipped. These are people who have never seen soldiers, let alone fighting war. So, these days when something is said, I look at the person talking and where he is coming from. Where I come from, they say when your enemy kills a lion, you say ‘how can?’ That it is a pussycat that he killed; that he didn’t kill a lion So, I don’t respond to that type of thing. This government, as far as I know hired people to audit NNPC and they have audited. There must be due process. All the noise about EFCC; the governors in the opposition shouting corruption now have files in EFCC. You knew how wealthy some were in 1998; you can see how wealthy they are now. What moral right have they to stand up where I am standing and talk of corruption?
We have two major candidates in the forthcoming presidential election – President Jonathan and General Buhari. How do you assess these two men vi-a-vis their chances in the election?
I will give a short answer. I am supporting President Goodluck Jonathan completely. And if you remember, in 2011, I didn’t.
And why now?
I want the stability of this country. Even in the hospital, doctors know that when a patient comes in, you stabilize that patient before you begin treatment. I was not supporting President Jonathan in 2011 and I was noisy about that because of zoning. But in 2015, I am supporting President 100 percent because we need to maintain the stability of this country. You cannot just come and snatch the presidency for contrived reasons without thinking about the effect on the rest of the country. That was what led to the civil war and the instability.
And it should not be allowed. Due process must go on. If he is not returned by due process, so be it. But, you cannot simply make up your mind and snatch it and that’s why I have been pleading that the presidential election must not be fought on the North/South divide. If you fight this on the North/South divide, any northerner who supports a southerner will be seen as a traitor and a southerner who supports a northerner will also be seen as a traitor and his children will be seen as traitors. In Igbo land, we call them saboteurs. So, let’s remove the North/South divide. If that is the only thing we achieve, I will be at ease. We must run this as election. We must retain our friendship, whether people are northerners or minorities or majorities. But where you think that you have the number and power and you can sit down and snatch it, it portends danger for this country.
As a national figure and eminent Igbo man, where do you find the Igbo in the whole of these political calculations?
It is a shame that the Igbo people are where they have placed themselves. The Igbo people have been seen as cannon fodder. When there is problem in the country, it is the people that are killed. When brothers quarrel with brothers and there is riot, it is Igbo shops that get looted. When soldiers kill themselves, it is the Igbo civilians that get killed and the Igbo have not sat down to decide, but they are deciding now. In 2011, my concern was to factor in the Igbo in the zoning. It didn’t go that way because a lot of Igbo didn’t see it our way.
This particular one, I am not even thinking of Igbo because we say that if you want to sleep, you will first of all struggle and get the sleeping space before you start looking for the mat and mattress to lie on it. The Igbo are Nigerians. The Igbo are found in all the troubled states in Nigeria, including Chibok. It is in the interest of the Igbo for us to continue to be Nigerians. Nigeria took it for granted once in 1966 and Igbo went back. It should not be taken for granted. The Igbo, sooner or later, they will find out that life does not begin and end with Rolls Royce and private jets, but that life begins and ends with getting your rightful due in a country that you call your own.
Against the background of 2011 post-election crisis, which claimed many lives, what would be your recommendations to achieving violence-free elections?
I won’t answer that question directly. I would tell you that each time a list is published, like the Madalla Christmas bombings; the Igbo took the lead of those that died; and it didn’t make any Igbo happy at all. Whether it was Boko Haram or whatever, it didn’t make anybody happy. In the 2011 post-election violence, Igbo people also calculated their losses and it didn’t make them happy. This time, the advice we are giving the Igbo is ‘you have suffered it before, don’t run’. We had a poem that helped us to survive the civil war called “if we must die”. I recommend that to Ndi Igbo. ‘If you have lived anywhere and made your living and the others have made your own place their living, don’t run’. But, it is the duty of the President to guarantee lives and property, and no matter how anybody may shriek, that he should not deploy soldiers and security agencies, he should not listen. It is his duty to deploy security agencies in order to protect lives and property and we expect him to do it this time. You cannot go anywhere and see Igbo gathered and then you start breaking their shops and killing them. Security agencies should shoot such people on sight wherever they are. That’s why when somebody says ‘don’t deploy soldiers’, I say better watch those people. What are they planning? We that want to be protected are not saying don’t deploy, it is those that want to attack us that are saying don’t deploy. And that is dangerous.
Many are calling for removal of Professor Attahiru Jega, the INEC Chairman. Where do you stand on that?
Whatever has a beginning always has an end. Jega had a beginning and all Nigerians hailed, Jega will also have an end, whether it is now or in the future. I am not interested in that. But Jega should make sure he ends well. The postponement is all Jega’s fault. It is not security agencies. For Jega, a professor, to be saying that he was ready when Lagos had 38 percent collection of the PVCs, where you have the highest number of registered voters, falls short of my rating of an academic.
Second, the figures that Jega submitted to the Council of State, Yobe State had less than 1.1 million. It had collected over 800,000 PVCs, while Enugu has 1.45 million and collected only 700,000, less than Yobe and there is no insurgency in Enugu. Again, it defies logic and logic is what defines an academic. Jega must be thanking God for the postponement and the time it gives him to make up for these self-evident lapses and then correct what needs to be corrected and build confidence in Nigerians that he can do the job. But whether he is there or not to do the job, it is not my concern. This country is bigger than a human being, whether President or presidential aspirant or whatever.
One of the reasons some people canvass for the re-election of Mr. President is to implement the report of the 2014 National Conference, which had you as a delegate. Can that be true?
I was a delegate to the National Conference. Apart from Guinea worm eradication, which I was preoccupied with, I also regard the National Conference as a privilege that I am proud of. There are four aspects of the decisions, which any Nigerian should ignore at his peril. The decisions reached to restore federalism. It reinforced fiscal federalism. The decisions reached got back to equity and fairness. You don’t collect more than your share. The decisions reached to lay the foundation for development, by saying this is the fund we require to develop other resources other than oil; and to have a Sovereign National Fund. We can’t have a zero sum Federation Account. Every month, we go and share everything and bring it back to zero. I want to believe that President Jonathan who set up that conference and received the report is in a better position to implement the report than any other person.
Your former principal, a man you cherish so much, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo recently tore his PDP membership card and exited from the party. What do you make of that?
To most of us who know President Obasanjo, it was the most painful action to watch because he benefited immensely more than any other human being on earth from our effort to form the PDP, starting from the All Politicians Summit and that upsets many of us and I don’t think he should have done that. To do it publicly is unheard of, unthinkable. It could not have been done by anybody while he was president because he was a very strong president and the basic law is: ‘don’t do what you will not have others do.’ I will stop there. But it was a terrible thing to behold.
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