‘2023 Elections an opportunity to work out better Nigeria’
His Royal Highness (HRH), Igwe Patrick Eze is the traditional ruler of Egali Amalla Community in Udenu local council of Enugu State.
In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, the monarch, popularly known as Igwe Waziri, says the 2023 general election is an opportunity to begin the process of building a better Nigeria.
He assesses the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari poorly, especially in the area of security and welfare of the masses.
He notes that Nigerians cannot afford to make a wrong choice in the next presidential election, stressing that the electorate should carefully study the campaign promises of the presidential candidates and juxtapose them with their ability to deliver based on their antecedents before deciding on whom to support
President Muhammadu Buhari has been steering the affairs of the nation for the last seven years. How would you rate the performance of his administration so far?
THE performance of every administration can be judged by the impact it makes on the people. Are the people getting what they expect from the government? The major responsibility of any government is to provide security, ensure that people have access to infrastructures and amenities, ensure a lively economy, create jobs, provide quality education and health care services and ensure that essential commodities are affordable to the people.
The gap between what we had in 2015 in terms of prices of essential commodities when Buhari took over and what we have now is so wide and everybody is feeling the pains of economic hardship.
In 2015, the price of gas was N180 per litre and now it is N800. In 2015, the price of kerosene was N120 per litre; now it is N700.
A bag of local rice cost N11,000 in 2015; now it is N25,000. If you talk about infrastructure and amenities, the roads are bad all around the country, particularly in the Southeast.
Virtually all the federal roads in the Southeast are in deplorable condition. Major roads in the Southeast like the Onitsha-Owerri road, Enugu- Onitsha expressway and Obollo Afor-Makurdi road are so bad that trucks conveying goods collapse every day inflicting a heavy financial loss on transporters and traders, and causing unbearable traffic gridlock.
Ordinarily, it takes less than 30 minutes to drive from Obollo Afor to Ninth Mile but now it takes more than three hours. Obollo Afor to Onitsha took about three hours before but now it takes almost the whole day. That is to tell you how bad the roads are now.
The price of diesel and the condition of roads determine the cost of commodities because transporters and traders will calculate their expenses and add them to the cost of their goods to be able to make a profit. Clearly, the massive increase in prices of commodities has heightened the rate of suffering with hunger and starvation dealing harshly with poor families.
If you talk about security, we have a worst security situation now than in 2015. The pains and sufferings of Nigerians would have been less if we have security, but people cannot even sleep in the afternoon because of fear of attack by deadly criminals. As a businessman, I can tell you that we are facing the toughest time in history.
Companies are laying-off workers because of the inability to foot monthly bills. The number of unemployed youths is on the increase and you can see the restiveness of the youth in response to that. The quality of education and health care services is terribly bad. University teachers have been on strike for many months now and there seems to be no end in sight as they just extended the strike indefinitely. This is much I can give on the assessment of the present administration.
Are you saying that the Buhari administration has failed Nigerians?
No, that is not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that those who are saying that the present administration has done well and those that are saying that it has not done well should look at the situation of things and use their tongues to count their teeth.
Let’s talk more about the security situation of the country. Not too long ago, about three state governors went to draw the attention of President Buhari to the insecurity in their states and Buhari reportedly told them to go back and fulfil their campaign promises, which include that they should provide adequate security for lives and property, in their states.
Let me ask you: What is your take on the roles of state governors on security in their various states? The government used to say that security is the responsibility of everybody but not everybody has the equipment to do security work.
Besides, the security structure and architecture, as well as the resources, channelled for security by the government is not accessible to everybody. Those who don’t have guns and bullets cannot face heavily armed bandits, kidnappers and terrorists. The poor farmer in the village or the rural market women who don’t even have a telephone handset cannot do any form of security work.
Every month, the federal, state and local councils collect what they call security votes and spend it without even giving an account of it; yet they say that security is everybody’s business. If they know that security is everybody’s business let them just share the security votes with everybody and also provide security equipment for everybody.
In essence, you are alleging that the mismanagement of security votes is behind the high rate of insecurity in the country?
The head controls every part of the body and when the head is sick the whole body cannot function. The security structure and architecture start from the local councils to the states and then the Federal Government. The local council carries the burden to the state, the state takes the burden to the federal. All the heads of the security structures and architectures are answerable to Abuja.
State Commissioners of Police or State Directors of the Department of State Services (DSS) can only answer the state governor when there is an emergency. The State Commissioner of Police is appointed by Abuja so also the State Director of DSS likewise the Military Commanders.
The GOC of 82 Division and other Military Commanders are appointed by Abuja and they are answerable to Abuja. So, the problem is from the head. And as I said earlier, if the head is sick every part of the body is affected. Nobody can live when the head is cut off. Somebody can still live without a hand or a leg or even without two legs and two hands but when the head is off you are gone.
Do you think that the threat by some senators to impeach the President is justified?
Whether it is justified or not, you have to bear in mind that the Senate is made up of those in the ruling party and those in the opposition party.
So, if those in the opposition party are threatening to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, those in the ruling party will have their own role to play and that will determine the possibility of getting the president impeached.
The funny thing is that some of them in government don’t care about the masses because they are inside the ocean of riches with everything available to them. Some of them don’t care to know if the President is doing well or not. They don’t care about peace. They even make gains during crises because our people use to say that a trader is in a position to make gains from the loss of another trader.
Nigerians are hoping to make a statement with their votes in the 2023 general election. Do you expect INEC to conduct a free and fair election?
Well from what happened in recent elections in Edo, Ekiti and Osun states, there is hope that INEC might do well at the end of the day. Take Edo for instance; the people’s votes clearly counted and a winner emerged.
Former governor Adams Oshiomhole never expected that the All Progressives Congress (APC) would lose in Edo but APC lost. In Ekiti, there were skeletal complaints by the opposition that the election was not credible but that was just normal. Sometimes, losers complain about one thing or the other.
In Ekiti, the people’s turnout wasn’t all that impressive and maybe APC had more turnout of voters that made the election go in its favour.
In Osun, I can say that INEC deserves a passing mark. I watched one of the leaders of the Kwankwaso campaign team, Buba Galadima, on television and I can recall him saying that the masses revolted against the APC in Osun and the party lost despite the fact that they had the power and might of incumbency. So from what happened in Osun State, there is hope that the 2023 election will be free, fair and credible if INEC and security agents replicate what they did in Osun State.
However, there is an area of concern and that is about the courts and the judges because the fourth person at the polls can be declared the winner by the court. It has happened in this country hence my concern.
Tthere are fears in some quarters that vote buying might negatively impact the election. What is your take?
They say that Africa is still a third-world continent where people fall short of good brains and common sense. Sometimes they compare the brain of Africans to that of monkeys and chimpanzees. They say that the difference between the brain of Africans and that of monkeys and chimpanzees is very little.
For me, vote selling is consequent upon poor brain and that is why some people sell their conscience for peanuts and end up facing suffering for a long time. It is like an act of monkeys or chimpanzees for somebody who has been suffering for all these years to sell his vote for peanut. If hunger could not kill you for all these years, is it during this election that hunger would kill you if you don’t sell your vote? Let people be wise enough.
What are the qualities you would like Nigerians to consider while choosing their next president?
First, I am expecting that the elections will be an opportunity to work out a better Nigeria by electing a candidate who is experienced enough with a track record to deliver.
Second, I expect that the elections will give the masses the opportunity to go against those leaders that have consistently failed to live up to their expectations. In fact, for me the election should serve as a judgment day for poor performers. I believe the masses know what they want. Let them study the track record of the candidates and listen to their campaign messages and promises carefully.
All the candidates are good, mature, competent and experienced. One of them has been a vice president. Others have been stating governors and ministers; so they are good. But there has to be a better one and even the best one, which is invariably going to be determined by their track records, campaign messages and promises.
Look at what they say they are coming to do and find out if they are capable of doing it based on their past records. Promises and the ability to fulfil the promises will determine the better and the best ones and for me the best is what Nigerians should go for. All the candidates are familiar to the electorate and they are here with us. So, we cannot afford to make the wrong choice at the polls.
What is your view on the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC, which has been generating discontent both within and outside the party?
It is normal to balance issues so as to appease the whims and caprices of nature. God created man and woman to balance human beings. What I am saying is that the Muslim-Muslim ticket contradicts the natural and democratic demand to balance issues of governance in Nigeria.
Besides, the Muslim-Muslim ticket contradicts popular opinions and the popular interest of the citizens of Nigeria today. During the time of Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister, there was no religious interest among the citizens as it is today but Zik, a Christian, was chosen to serve as second in command because of the need to balance issues in governance.
Let me tell you; after independence, the North was already large enough to produce a North-North ticket and win the election during the Tafawa Balewa era but they picked Balewa as Prime Minister from North and Zik for President for the sake of balance. Even successive military regimes that ran things the way they liked recognised North-South, Muslim-Christian ticket.
After the war, Murtala Mohammed as Head of State, a Muslim from the North, picked Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian from the South.
When Murtala died, Obasanjo took over as Head of State and picked Shehu Yar’Adua, a Muslim as second in command. In 1979, when we had a democratic rule, Shehu Shagari, a Muslim from the North picked Dr Alex Ekwueme, a Christian from the South.
In 1983, Buhari and Idiagbon worked as Muslim-Muslim but Babangida came and balanced it as usual. Babangida, a Muslim from the North, picked both Ebitu Ukiwe and Augustine Aikhomu, who are Christians from the South. Late Sani Abacha, a Muslim from the North, picked Oladipo Diya, a Christian from the South.
You can see the picture clearly. The issue of North-South and Muslim-Christian tickets has been running smoothly since the return of democracy in 1999 and that has helped to strengthen our democracy. You cannot change a winning team or a winning formula and expect the same result. In 1999, Obasanjo, a Christian from the South picked Atiku Abubakar a Muslim from the North.
In 2007, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the North picked Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South. When Yar’Adua died in 2010, Jonathan picked Namadi Sambo, a Muslim from the North as vice president. In 2015, Buhari, a Muslim from the North picked Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the South. Why change a smooth run of things in 2023? Anyway, I think it’s left for Nigerians to make a statement with their votes.
How do you look at the presidential candidacy of former governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi? What are his chances? Some people say his candidacy is a timely and acceptable response to the marginalisation of the Southeast geopolitical zone by APC and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)…
First of all, let me state that Peter Obi is the candidate of the Labour Party and not the candidate of the Southeast or Ndigbo. The election is not about the Southeast or Ndigbo. The election is about the entire citizens of Nigeria. So, Peter Obi as a presidential candidate seeking to win the presidential election should reach out to entire inhabitants of Nigeria anywhere they are. You cannot win a presidential election with the votes of a particular section of the country; you need votes from every part of the country.
The youth seems to be very serious about participating in the election. What advice do you have for them?
Can the youth be trusted? Some of them can easily yield to cheap overtures of eating and drinking if you put rice and chicken and beer on the table. Some of them don’t even have voter’s cards and yet they are gallivanting around the streets in the name of the campaign. Politics is not fair. Some of them will yield to thuggery and work as thugs. Some of them have paymasters who mandate them to work for their interests at all costs. Don’t be surprised that some of them are miscreants and hoodlums and criminals looking for an opportunity to use the election to cause trouble and have a chance to loot public property. As I said, the election is a time to work out a better Nigeria and all hands should be on deck. So, I will advise the youth to take responsibility and shun violence and make themselves trustworthy.
As a businessman, do you have a specific area you think the next president should prioritise?
My target is tight security and ease of doing business with good roads and affordable prices of petroleum products. Then let essential commodities also be affordable to the masses and jobs made available for the youth.
Now let’s talk about Enugu State where you are a major stakeholder as a royal father. How would you rate the performance of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi so far?
Well, I think Governor Ugwuanyi has tried his best and if you ask me I will give him up to 80 per cent. Why? It’s because he did certain things differently and better.
For instance, he championed the cause of peace and security as well as the cause of the youth creditably. He also improved the standard of living in urban areas with road construction and projects on water, education and health, among others.
In most cases, the urban and rural areas need the government’s attention more than the cities and the Ugwuanyi administration gave them good attention. Fortunately, my community benefited from the rural road construction projects of the administration. A lot of rural communities that have never received any project from the state government received one thing or the other from the administration and that is a huge mark for him.
In the incoming dispensation, I expect Ugwuanyi’s successor to start where he stopped and improve the peaceful atmosphere in Enugu State and the standard of living in urban and rural areas with projects on road construction, water, education, and health, among others.