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Buhari’s leadership style hurting democracy, weakening national cohesion, says Eya

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Former Secretary general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, told LAWRENCE NJOKU in Enugu, that the 1999 Constitution, President Muhammadu Buhari’s style of leadership has brought woes to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.

Does the democracy we enjoy now agree with your aspirations when we took off in 1999?

YOU know that 1999 brought us to the end of military rule. That means the end of dictatorship and return to democracy. Unfortunately, because we are anxious to return to democracy, we took the bait by the outgoing military hook line and sinker. What do I mean? When the military first came, they suspended a federal republic constitution, which operated a parliamentary system of governance, which operated regional governance, where we had four regions – North, East, South and Mid-West. That was the constitution we had before the military came. One would have thought that when the military was leaving, they should have restored us where they met us so we can start our democracy afresh. But instead, they sat down and wrote a constitution for Nigeria and in a dictatorial way imposed it on us as “We the people”.

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That fallacy is what we are suffering today because that constitution was not our constitution. It was the constitution by the military, which in all aspects kept us under military control under a unitary government, which was not what Nigeria got in independence. Nigeria got parliamentary democracy based on regional federalism. That was our constitution before the military came and late Aguiyi Ironsi told us in plain language that they are not politicians and for the period the military will take over they will work according to unitary command and that their job was to ensure that people are put in a place where they will understand democracy. It was such that when they finished they would say, go back to your democracy and sin no more. I thought that was what the military came for, but in the 38 years of the military, we had more corruption than anything and the corruption has continued.

Are you saying that the democracy we have had so far, has failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians?
Sure, certainly. It is a benevolent military dictatorship and this is due to our constitution. That constitution will continue to work against certain sections of the country. It is so lopsided and that is why some people who benefit from this lopsided constitution each time you talk about amendment they will ask you to take it to the National Assembly where they dominate everything. I give you an example when the debate was raised in the National Assembly for the creation of the Northeast Development Commission; it had an easy passage in the NASS. When a similar bill for the establishment of a Southeast Development Commission came, they said it would divide Nigeria and they killed it. They dominate the National Assembly. That constitution has put a segment of Nigerians into a minority. Part of it says that there shall be 774 local governments in Nigeria. Did you ever see that kind of thing in our Independence Constitution? Our Independence Constitution believes in true federalism and every region created the number of local governments it thinks it could work with. Federal government was never involved in the creation of local governments and check the distribution, how many are in the south, how many are in the north and how do they share the resources? When they share the money, for instance, Kano will get 44 shares, Enugu, where I come from will get 17. That is a double plus. It was deliberate.

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Ask Olusegun Obasanjo; he did not know what was in the constitution before he was sworn in as civilian president. It was after he was sworn in that they released this constitution. Like I said, because we were anxious to let them go, we swallowed that bait, hook line and sinker and that is the bait that is killing us now.

Can you please be specific on those things we are experiencing from this faulty arrangement that have hindered democratic growth and national cohesion?
Take the local government for instance; no state can create the local government without referring to the constitution.  Before this constitution, I come from a local government that had an Igboeze County Council made up of group courts. We thought that we were too many for local government administration and made a request that we wanted more local governments. The state government in its wisdom set up a committee to go round with certain templates of creation, to know whether our demand was justified. We wanted three local governments. They came, took our views and recommended that we should have two and that was how Igboeze north and Igboeze south local governments came about. The Federal Government had nothing to do with it because the local government from our Independent Constitution gives such powers to the state government. In the north, Ahmadu Bello created many of them as Premier of the Northern region; Michael Okpara, the Premier of the Eastern region created more of them, the same thing in the West, not the Federal Government. Today, you cannot create a local government until you amend the constitution of the federation and do you know that in this particular constitution, 68 items are in the exclusive list of the federal government.

Take another instance, former President Jonathan and Yar’Adua who were non-military made the difference. After the death of Yar’Adua, Jonathan took over and after looking at the challenges posed on the country by the amalgamation as well as the constitution, decided that there shall be a national conference on how Nigerians can live together. He brought together politicians, market women, students, religious leaders, traditional rulers, technocrats and ethnic nationalities, who form the block of the people of Nigeria. Put together, they came up with about 429 persons, which is more than both Houses of the National Assembly and more representatives in nature. We spent all the money and at the end of the conference, they came up with 629 unanimous resolutions of a national conference, covering our political woes, our economic woes, our social woes and how we can live together and do away with these woes and become a good country. The only party that did not attend that conference was the All Progressives Congress (APC). Buhari is the leader of the APC and when he was sworn in; he said that the resolution of the conference is good for the waste paper basket. That decision was going to be put to a referendum on Nigerians. But Jonathan did not have time to actualize it and if the government were a continuum, Buhari would have actualized the resolutions of that conference.  But he jettisoned it and is telling you that our unity is not negotiable. Anybody who is telling you that is a dictator. How can you say that my relationship with you is not negotiable when we are not of the same make? I want to tell you one obvious truth, which is the fact that the economic, social and whatever challenges we are having are simply because we jettisoned those resolutions. Can we still call this one a country with the level of insecurity we are facing; can we call this one a country with the scale of corruption in governance, the refusal of Buhari to rule in accordance with laid down rules and regulations, among others? This is indeed not the democracy we wanted and for which we called on the military to exit power 22 years ago.

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This lopsided constitution has brought with it doom. I had written Buhari a letter and I called him my hero and that was because of the War Against Indiscipline, which he instituted during the military era. I was one of those that said part of our problem in Nigeria is indiscipline. A simple example is finding people driving against the traffic and everybody gives way.
 
My first son, I gave him the name, Ramat because of the impact of that young man (Murtala Mohammed) whom they killed. He came with the vision of building a nation but they snuffed life out of him. I had believed that coming to the office again as a civilian leader, he  (Buhari) would continue with efforts to cleanse the country, but I am highly disappointed. When Jonathan was the president of Nigeria, Boko Haram named Buhari as their negotiator with the federal government led by Jonathan and Buhari said to Jonathan, that fighting Boko Haram, means fighting the north. Have we forgotten? Since Buhari became president, has he renounced his appointment as Ambassador of Boko Haram? Has he rescinded his decision that fighting Boko Haram means fighting the north? Are we not aware of the fact that recently, there is an exchange of our students with the release of a Boko Haram fighter captured in Kano? These are the things that are worrisome.

We talk about herdsmen. It started in Benue and if you remember the day, Benue people were burying their people murdered in cold blood by herdsmen, APC was in Umuahia holding a rally on how to capture the Southeast. In that same instance, Buhari said he ordered the Inspector General of Police to relocate to Benue, he did not and when he visited Benue, he said he was surprised that the IGP he asked to go, did not go. Is it not true that these people enter a community in Zamfara, attack and occupy it and our government does nothing? We didn’t know these things before. We have had situations where those who attacked communities admit doing so, what happened to them? Kidnapping has become a booming trade in Nigeria. We have refused to see and say the truth and that is killing Nigeria.

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What you are saying is that part of the problems brought by this lopsided constitution is poor leadership?
It is a well-known fact that Nigeria is suffering poor leadership and the National Assembly has refused to accept that fact. They make resolutions and when the time comes for them to act, they fizzle out. It is the leadership at its lowest ebb. A leadership that has become almost docile in the face of the sufferings of the masses and that is what our democracy has produced in the last 22 years.

What can you make of the current discordant tunes among the governors, especially on the state of the nation?
That is the frustration that comes with the poor administration of a nation. The discordant tunes are real and it is loud and clear. There is no leadership. Obasanjo ruled us from 1999 to 2007; and periodically, the media men he had with him organised what they called Media Chat. Jonathan did the same. That is when the president relaxes in his garden, talks extempore and takes questions on the state of the nation. He will answer willingly and talk to his people. This president (Buhari) has stayed, six out of eight years, how many media chats has he attended? During the election when they were talking about debates, Osinbajo did his best to stand in and the young girl (moderator) said “let the President answer for himself.” Leadership must come with responsibility. You have vowed to defend and protect the constitution of Nigeria, you have promised to do good to all manner of Nigerians, but in practice, what do we get and you sit down and answer the name president? That is why today, governors are acting beyond their powers and doing things the way they like and that is because there is no leadership. 

In our time, things were planned, not what you have now. Look at the way the Federal Government is establishing higher institutions and making the universities look like glorified secondary schools. It is the federal nature that made the Eastern region build the first indigenous university at Nsukka and others started following. In other words, leadership plans everything that happens, and the primary determines by what happens in the secondary and the University system. You plan to know how many students are likely to go into University from secondary. We call it integrated planning. There is poor planning everywhere and the system is dying. To compound it, Buhari brought in nepotism, there is nothing like federal character anymore. People from one ethnic group in a federal country with many ethnic nationalities occupy almost every position of authority.

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Ndigbo have complained and nobody is listening and they said ‘leave us to stay on our own and they said no’. Are they meant to be slaves in Nigeria? There are problems everywhere. That is why I said Ndigbo must be united. They must be united to tackle the challenges facing them. Look at what Ohanaeze has become – two factions. The group being led by Obiozor and another by Ibeh, is this how they would fight? Look at the way Hope Uzodimma came to power on falsehood and thereby creating bad blood in Imo State. Look at what he is doing. Using the military might to sustain himself in office and ensuring that any opposition voice in Imo is crushed. Is that leadership; is that democracy we yearned for? You don’t force yourself on the people and expect Eldorado.

Can you talk about the attacks on INEC and Police facilities especially in the Southeast zone?
It portends great danger. It portends doom. But my suggestion is that we should unmask these unknown gunmen. Security should be able to unmask them if they are really doing security. Why should our federal security be happy that unknown gunmen set a place on fire? They only go to barricade a place after an attack and remove the barricade some days after, what sense is in that? After the attack at the Prison in Owerri, a former IGP said it was the IPOB. Later on, Uzodimma said it was his political opponents. Can you put a reason there? Is it possible it is IPOB? That is why I am saying we should unmask these people and know who they are. Is it also possible that the State is also encouraging this thing so that there will be no election? Why attack INEC offices and every day they succeed. There are security people in those offices and in Owerri they spent three hours in a facility near the Government House and nothing happened. How can you convince me that you do not know what is going on? Let’s not give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Let them go for the unknown gunmen. Arrest one or two and let’s interrogate them and let them tell us who sent them. INEC has said that over 40 of its facilities have been attacked nationwide. That’s a very large number that could derail the coming election if care is not taken. So let the government stand and tell Nigerians that it is committed to the sustenance of this democracy by putting a stop to these attacks.

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