Nwankwo: No alternative to restructuring Nigeria
Former Presidential candidate and Chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo is not a man of many words. In this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU, Southeast Bureau Chief, he bares his mind on some nagging issues in the country.
What is your take on President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in the last one year?
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has been a complete disaster. I knew from the outset that his presidency was a tragedy waiting to happen. My conclusions are anchored on observable and incontrovertible facts. The first is Buhari’s penchant for religiously implementing a policy of exclusion. You possibly cannot expect anything good from a man, who expressed the desire to run a segregative administration from the very beginning, based on the voting patterns in the 2015 presidential elections.
For him to say on several occasions that his government would treat differently areas that gave his party 95 percent vote from the areas that gave only five percent indicated that he did not and still does not understand what political contest is all about. As far as I know, the beauty of democracy is located in the freedom of the electorate to make a choice from an array of political contestants. At the end of the contest, whoever emerges the winner sees himself as the leader of all and not only of those that voted for him. Buhari has failed this litmus test of democratic inclusion.
Like I have always said about the Buhari presidency, you don’t give what you don’t have. Any discerning person would have identified the ineptitude of this administration from the content of Muhammadu Buhari’s inaugural address on May 29 2015. It is from such address that a focused leader hints on his vision and policy direction in governance. His inaugural speech was empty. I urge you to pick a copy of that address and go through it again. You will be shocked at how drab and uninspiring it was for such a big occasion. So much noise has been made about a line in that address, which said that, “he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody.” While many of his apologists sought to convince Nigerians of what he meant by that statement, I warned of the deceit and dictatorial import of that comment.
Today, Buhari has taken Nigeria back by almost 40 years and has proven beyond doubt that he is an ethnic and religious irredentist. The economy has collapsed and with it our collective destiny. Insecurity has not abated and poverty rate has tripled. The picture of things to come is gloomy and frightening. Buhari is, indeed, a colossal failure and his administration is a significant threat to the continued existence of this country as a corporate entity.
Could the reasons you outlined be responsible for the heightened clamour for restructuring of the country?
It is instructive that many Nigerians have come to the realisation that the only way for the survival of the country is through restructuring. This is heartwarming. This is what I have canvassed over the past three decades at great risk to my personal safety. Undoubtedly, restructuring of Nigeria has no alternative. It is the only road to its survival. However, I am worried that even those currently canvassing for restructuring do not seem to understand the full import of the process. I have heard some weird opinions about this, which makes me wonder whether we will ever get our politics right.
But if you do not get your politics right, there is no way you can get the economy right. All the talk about repositioning our economy have failed and will continue to fail, until we get our politics right. There is no alternative to this process. It is a natural course of events in the growth of nations.
I do not need to remind you how Nigeria came to be a country. It was never meant to be one country. The story of the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates is very clear. It was and still remains one of the greatest errors of British imperialism in this part of the world. States are not created by fiat; they evolve. All the states in Europe, Asia and Latin America went through a process of evolution. There was never a unilateral scrambling and partitioning of states in these areas.
History is replete with the fact that all the states created by colonial fiat have collapsed today, even in Europe. The list includes former Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Sudan, among others. The ones still existing are in serious crisis. No matter how anyone may want to try to explain away the tragedy of that amalgamation in Nigeria, the truth is that it was an error of judgment and a wicked contrivance by the then colonial authorities.
But we do not have to dwell on this error, because we have had several opportunities to correct it. The attainment of political independence in 1960 was a critical juncture for us to correct that error. The nationalists at that time realised this by adopting a truly federal structure and inaugurating the 1963 Republican constitution, which outlined the boundaries of relationship between the central government and the federating units. You will agree with me that each region then was developing at its own pace, maximising its comparative advantages and controlling the resources within its political space.
It was military incursion into political governance that destroyed our federalism. The military suspended that 1963 constitution and that was the beginning of our problems. The federating units were destroyed and replaced with the state-structure. The centre became too powerful, while the states became mere appendages.
This mentality of an all-powerful central government has been sustained with criminal impunity, even during the civilian era. So, when we talk about restructuring, what we are actually talking about is the reinvention of the 1963 constitution; constitutionalising the six geo-political zones as federating units and devolving considerable powers to the regions. Restructuring simply means divesting the central government of certain powers and limiting its area of influence to such issues as fiscal policies, military/defence, foreign policy, immigration and national elections. Restructuring does not mean the merging of states, as some people would prefer. Rather, it is a thoroughgoing process that allows each region to control its resources and pay royalties to the central government. It is a process that is anchored on the principle of “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.”
A system that relishes in the exploitation and impoverishment of its people on the nebulous concept of federal control of resources is evil and that is a perfect recipe for conflicts. You cannot justifiably rationalise a situation, where you exploit other people’s resources, deprive them of the benefit of those resources and use the same resource to develop other areas. If we say we are experimenting with the US presidential system, it is only reasonable that we go the whole hog. The issue of resource control in the US should serve as illuminating example to us. Restructuring will help us to stem the tide of restiveness in many parts of the country. It will also resolve the questions of citizenship, religion, resource control and fiscal federalism.
Incidentally, the present Federal Government seems to be impervious to this deafening clamour for restructuring of the country for reasons best known to it. I wish to point out here that the Obasanjo and Goodluck administrations successfully organised national conferences, which made far-reaching recommendations on how to restructure this country. The government should implement those recommendations, if there is to be a tomorrow for this country. The current rabble-rousing of the Buhari administration would only take us to the slaughterhouse. Let no one be in doubt of this.
But a Minister, Chris Ngige, said recently that the 2014 National Conference lacks legitimacy and that’s why President Buhari cannot accept it…
The 2014 National Conference was the one organised by Jonathan’s administration. It was a follow up and an improvement on the earlier ones convoked by the late Sani Abacha in 1994/95 and Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. Specifically, the National Conference of 2014 made far-reaching recommendations, which are fundamental for today’s Nigeria. Anybody jettisoning it is doing so at his peril.
The 2014 Conference recommended the creation of 18 new states, including an extra one for the southeast to ensure parity of states for all the geo-political zones. It also recommended that states willing to merge could do so, based on certain conditions. On resource control/derivation principle/fiscal federalism, the Conference noted that assigning percentage for the increase in derivation principle, and setting up Special Intervention Funds to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts, as well as solid minerals development, requires some technical details and consideration.
The Conference, therefore, recommended that Government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentage on the three issues and advised government accordingly.
On the issue of public finance and revenue allocation, it recommended that the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5 percent, State Governments – 35 percent and Local Governments 22.5 percent. In relation to the best form of government for the country, the 2014 Conference recommended a modified presidential system, a homemade model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. On power sharing and rotation, it recommended that the principle of power rotation should be enshrined in the Constitution, so that executive positions rotate at federal, state and local governments. The office of the president, governors and local government chairman should rotate in such a way that all the geo-political zones in the federation, states, local governments, as the case may be, should have a chance to produce a president, governor and local government chairman.
These recommendations, among others, are germane to our present situation, and implementing them would mark the beginning of the process of restructuring. But like I said earlier, this administration lacks the gusto, capacity and political will to implement those recommendations, because doing so would effectively abort Buhari’s nothernisation and Islamisation agenda.
Would this administration benefit anything by not restructuring the polity?
The Buhari administration has nothing to benefit from refusing to restructure the country; rather it has everything to lose. This administration is living on borrowed time. The road to Nigeria’s safety is restructuring. As presently constituted, the Nigerian system has and will continue to recreate inequality at the expense of equality. It will continue to reconstruct misery and poverty, as well as induce acceptance of them, as if God ordained them. It will continue to recondition corruption and enthrone it, as a higher value for the regeneration of the spoilt system. It will continue to reinvent ethnicity and sectionalism and make both acceptable criteria for appointments, just as it will continue to declare its preference for the introduction of a state religion in a secular and multi-ethnic state like Nigeria.
However, one would have thought that age and the passage of time would have refined and reconditioned him. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. In Buhari, I have come to appreciate the truism that a man remains whatever character he is, irrespective of his station in life.
The anti-corruption war has been on for over a year now. Do you think the government is succeeding in the fight?
My opinion on Buhari’s so-called anti-corruption war is not hidden; it is in the public domain. I would describe Buhari’s war against corruption as a huge scam and failure. In the first place, you need to understand what corruption is. Simply defined, corruption is the misuse of public power by elected politicians or appointed civil servants for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the context. Corruption amounts to wrongdoing on the part of an authority or powerful persons through means that are illegitimate, immoral, or incompatible with ethical standards. Corruption often results from patronage and is associated with bribery. It is the impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle or inducement to wrongdoing by improper or unlawful means. In real terms, financial impropriety is only an aspect of corruption. Hence, if a leader, for reasons of expediency, appoints only his relations into offices in flagrant abuse of constitutional provisions, that leader is corrupt.
In my view, we are not yet fighting corruption in Nigeria, because when we do that 99 percent of Nigerians would be in jail.
I will never support looting of public funds by public officers. I have done a detailed study of corruption in Nigeria in my book “Nigeria: The Stolen Billions.” From that book, you can judge for yourself if Buhari is guilty of corruption or not. If Buhari is fighting corruption, his efforts must be comprehensive and holistic, not selective. If Buhari is probing PDP’s campaign funds, equity requires that he also probes APC’s campaign fund. Why should PDP campaign funds be so special, if I may ask? Can someone tell me from where the APC got its own campaign funds? It has become almost a soap opera on television and radio, with stories of how PDP members got money from Sambo Dasuki to fund their election. That is all fair and good, but for crying out loud, we need to know where Buhari and the APC sourced money for their own campaign. Can Buhari tell us where and how he got the N27m with which he bought his nomination form? The identities of those that bankrolled Buhari’s election are not hidden and we know their track records. One state in the South-South has assembled staggering evidence of monumental financial recklessness by the immediate past governor, who was known to be the major financier of the presidential election. It is now known that this ex-governor literary emptied his state’s treasury to bankroll his campaign. Most Nigerians know the relationship between Dasuki and Buhari. Dasuki, you may recall was Babangida’s ADC, when the latter toppled Buhari in a palace coup in August 1985. It was actually Dasuki that arrested Buhari. More than anything else, I can assure you that Dasuki is paying for his crimes during that coup.
But the interesting thing is that today, many top officials of the Buhari government are neck-deep in corruption allegations. Take, for instance, the case of General Burutai, the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS). For the records, this is a serving military officer and a member of Buhari’s inner circle, who has been factually and evidentially implicated in the buying of houses in Dubai in excess of N600m. Now, what did the government of Buhari do? It hurriedly cleared the CoAS, even before the military hierarchy could issue a statement on the matter.
The case of Col. Jafaru Isa (rtd), a known associate of Buhari and one of the top members of the APC, is another example. Jafaru was implicated in corruption charges and was reined in by the EFCC. He eventually made a plea bargain to refund N100m. With that alone, all charges against him were dropped, case closed— just because he is an APC member and a close associate of the president. But there are members of the opposition, who have made similar plea bargains, yet they are facing trials today.
What does this tell us? It tells us that Buhari’s war against corruption is not honest. It tells us that all animals are equal, but that some are more equal than others. It tells us that some people in Nigeria are above the law and that the fight against corruption is manifestly selective. Apparently, all it takes for one to be shielded from the EFCC is to be a member of the APC—either as a civilian or uniformed person.
More than anything else, it tells us that Buhari is not a man of his words. Do not get me wrong. It is in his nature to renege on his words. There is no promise made by Buhari during his campaigns that has been fulfilled till date. For the records, he promised that when he gets into power, fuel would be sold at a pump price of N45. Today, the pump price of fuel is N145. He promised that when he gets into power, the naira would exchange for one naira-to-one dollar. Today, the naira exchanges for over N380 at the parallel market and about N398 officially.
I am not alone in the conclusion that this mantra of fight against corruption is merely designed to deceive and divert our attention from the many failings of this administration. In real terms, this government is simply a fraud.
What do you advocate for Ndigbo towards 2019 in view of present allegations of marginalisation?
I want to say straight away that Buhari does not like our guts, but whether he likes our guts or not does not change the fact that, as a people, Ndigbo are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Nobody can take away this fact. We have survived greater deprivations and alienation in Nigeria than mere political appointments. Ndigbo are not deluded into thinking that Buhari loves them. But it is unfortunate that Buhari would carry his hatred for Ndigbo to this ridiculous extent. Is it not obvious that Ndigbo do not count in Buhari’s agenda? We are not alone in this alienation. The South-south is also not left out.
The emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria is both instructive and indicative. It is instructive, because power has reverted to the North in one of the most treacherous elections I have witnessed in Nigeria; and some self-appointed pundits have attributed the marginalisation by the Buhari government of the southeast and south south as consequences of our pitching our tent with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). That the people of the two zones placed their fate in the PDP is not strange. Even though there is an unwritten arrangement that each zone would exhaust its two tenures at the presidency, as a strategy of maintaining national stability and cohesion in Nigeria, it is no longer news that the South-South was treacherously manipulated out of power.
Our people believed in this arrangement and cannot be expected to change their attitude, as some other zones are wont to do. Our people are steadfast in keeping agreements; they are not treacherous. Steadfastness is part of our people’s culture; it is part of our way of life and it is not easy for a people to change their way of life overnight. I want you to remember that Ndigbo have not taken their turn at the presidency. We are calmly watching the unfolding scenario. If Nigeria remains as a country, be rest assured that we will take our shot at the presidency and do our two tenures. In the event of such scenario, Nigeria would, for the first time, experience quality and transformative leadership.
The character and world outlook of any group of people is determined by their geography and demography. In terms of these variables, I wish to point out that the Southeast and South-south are contiguous and what affects one affects the other. History, therefore, imposes on the peoples of these two zones to protect their political space in the event of any outside onslaught. We will, at all times, defend the cardinal points of our geographical boundaries from predators, intent on taking our people and resources as spoils of war.
These cardinal points include the entry point at Obollo Afor in Nsukka, the entry point from Edo to Agbor and the Atlantic Ocean.
Admittedly, Nigeria’s economy is anchored on one commodity-oil, which is derived in abundance from the Southeast and South-south. The environmental degradation and human tragedy brought upon the people of these regions is unimaginable. Our protests have been brutally crushed and activists exiled, jailed or murdered in cold blood. I recall that in 2000, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration empanelled the famous Oputa Panel to investigate the human rights abuses wrought upon our people. It is on record that General Muhammadu Buhari, a prime actor in the atrocities against our people, bluntly refused to appear before the Oputa Panel, despite numerous invitations. In truth, Nigeria got to this point of social inertia, as a result of the many atrocities committed against the Southeast and South-south. Hence, for anybody or group of people to think that it will be business as usual is an imagination anchored on self-destruction. It will fail woefully.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is perching precariously at the edge of the precipice. That ineptitude has dominated our political leadership since 1999 through criminal manipulation of the electoral system, the one of 2015 inclusive, is an obvious fact, no matter how beneficiaries of the corrupt system may try to wish it away. Not minding the bogus claims of the political leaders, the Federal Government has been generally lack-lustre in performance. Insecurity to lives and property in Nigeria has become a way of life, while unemployment, social crimes and the virtual collapse of our infrastructure has become the signposts of a failed state.
Nigeria is a country that God Almighty has richly endowed, but we have frittered away every opportunity of salvaging the country and reclaiming its high destiny. This is a country with enormous possibilities, but which ethnic pariahs and mind-boggling tendency for primitive accumulation have almost destroyed. This is a country with so much potential for industrialisation, but wasted through inept leadership, lack of vision and mission in governance and en-fooled political elite noted more for its double-speak and empty rhetoric than meaningful leadership.
This is a country that cannot boast of regular power supply; where millions and billions of naira develop wings and vanish over night and nothing happens; a country where governance is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Nigeria is, indeed, a country of the absurd. Yet, in all these absurdities, the powers that be want to limit the political space, deprive Nigerians of their political franchise and rights and orchestrate a grand implementation of democratic dictatorship. In the past one year, Buhari has reinvented nepotism and justified it as the basis for appointments. In his blind rage against our people, Buhari has populated his administration with more family members than any past Nigerian head of state, military or civilian ever ventured to attempt.
In a press interview published recently, Dr. Junaid Mohammed reeled off appointments that bear out President Muhammadu Buhari’s shameless record in nepotism. President Buhari appointed Abba Kyari, the foster child of his nephew, Mamman Daura, Chief of Staff to the President. Buhari appointed Duara’s son Personal Assistant to the President. Buhari appointed Lawal Abdullahi Kazaure, Daura’s son-in-law, as the State Chief of Protocol. He appointed Mohammed Lawal Abubakar, the husband of his elder sister’s grand-daughter, as Aide de Camp to the President, and Sabiu Yusuf, his sister’s grandson, as another Personal Assistant to the President. Buhari appointed Aisha Abubakar, the daughter of the younger sister of Daura’s wife, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment.
No Nigerian leader has pushed nepotism this far. No Nigerian head of state has had the shamelessness to embarrass himself on this scale. No Nigerian leader has ever designed to turn the rare privilege of holding the highest position in the land into an excuse to openly prioritise their family members in appointments like Buhari. We cannot allow this to happen. In 2019, if this government survives till then, our people would again vote against Buhari and his party. We have no regrets voting against him, and we will do it a million times over.