No sane person is satisfied with present situation in the country, says Modebelu
Lead Promoter for SouthEast Leadership and Development Initiative (SELDI), Ikenna Modebelu spoke to LAWRENCE NJOKU on the challenges facing the country and the implication of Monday sit-at-home order imposed by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on the economy of the region.
…Igbo cannot pursue presidency and Biafra at same time
Nigeria is at 62, are you satisfied with the state of the nation?
I do not think any sane person living in Nigeria is happy with the present situation in the country. There is no gain saying the fact that seven and half years of Buhari’s administration have been a colossal disaster because the indices prevalent in 2015 have systematically been rubbished. Petrol was N45 per litre,US dollar was under N200. Three months after Buhari came on board and because of wrong economic policies, lack of attention to merit, none appointment of ministers, the economy went comatose.
Economy is like a big engine, if you stop it like the President did for six months without appointing anybody, it will take much longer to start it again. Big engines like the Nigerian economy run without end just like any other economy in the world. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. All the indices of development have failed us and the debt profile is excruciating.
During Obasanjo’s administration, we succeeded in debt cancellation but now, we owe over $60 billion. What have we done with the money? Is it the Niger Republic that we are developing or is it Nigeria that we should be developing, especially the economy, which is the engine room of Nigeria as a nation? So there has been a lot of distortion on the economy.
Nepotism has grown and almost every agency of government is headed by someone from his ethnic zone. Indeed, as I said, the current situation is very hopeless with inflation above 20 per cent, which is reflected in the high and unaffordable prices of goods and services. The 33 per cent unemployment rate (with an unemployment rate among young people of about 53 per cent) exacerbates the current security crisis caused by a high poverty rate of over 40 per cent, among other factors. Economic experts agreed that our exchange rate is volatile even as the nation is faced with high corruption and insecurity, intractable divisions among ethnic nationalities and broken public finance.
Look at our primary healthcare, it is virtually non-existent and basic education is largely or completely ignored. At present, more than 250,000 public school classrooms (from pre-primary to junior secondary) are classified as bad and an estimated 20 million Nigerian children are out of school. Kidnapping has replaced Nigeria’s crumbling industries. Public debt, which stood at N42.84 trillion in the first half of 2022, is a huge concern. In addition, Nigeria’s largest source of income and foreign exchange suffers from oil theft, with around 400,000 barrels of oil reportedly stolen daily. As hopeless as the situation is, most state governments will accumulate more debts to fund campaigns.
The dwindling fortunes of Nigeria did not start with President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime. At what point did our leaders begin to derail, not following the footsteps of the nation’s founding fathers?
They derailed mostly with the unitary system that was unfortunately foisted by an Igboman in the person of the late Gen. Aguyi Ironsi; it opened the floodgate for military interventions that have not paid us. The derailing of the nation actually started with the advent of the military into the leadership of the country. The various coups and counter coups were foisted on the nation by a section of the military. So the derailing started there. Really, the military do not have any direct interest in leadership and this gave birth to the issue of nepotism, tribalism and this transcended into civil disobedience.
What are the possible solutions to challenges engulfing the nation?
Sincere leadership pursuit, assuming the elders should allow this movement that is gaining currency to continue, it will solve most of the problems. The youths have seen that their future is no longer guaranteed and they have taken up the gauntlet to salvage their future. They have been in hibernation and now that they are coming out, they should be allowed. They are now convinced that leaving power in the hands of the gentocrats, will always mar their future.
Will there be anything positive from the unfolding event in the country that appears to be a youth revolution?
Something good will come out of it at the end of the day, even if they don’t win now if they don’t win this time, they will be taken seriously next time. They have suddenly woken up to the fact that their power is with them.
Ahead of the 2023 general election, Ndigbo have canvassed for restructuring, presidency and separatism, which one should they concentrate on?
We are not going to talk about Biafra because technically, Biafra may not be desirable as our young people are positioning. These three areas are all what I may call desires for Ndigbo as a people. All of them have their various degrees of importance. Restructuring is a very favoured plan, if you look at the 1963 Constitution, it had regions and it is highly desirable. Do not forget that it was the absence of restructuring that led to the Aburi accord. Assuming that the accord was adhered to, the civil war would not have been necessary. It was the reneging of the federal forces led by Yakubu Gowon that led to the inevitability of the civil war, which was led by Emeka Ojukwu.
So, restructuring is a vital political and economic tool that if truly implemented will solve the problem of separatism.
So, it is highly desired. The presidency is highly desired by our people because since the Ironsi unitary government, the Igbo have not been anywhere near power. So, the presidency will solve a lot of problems for the Igbo because it will give Ndigbo a sense of belonging. It will bring emotional healing to the Igbo who have been terribly bastardised in the scheme of things in the nation, especially with the type of input the Igbo make in Nigeria.
Is it right, easy and proper for the Igbo to fight for the three at the same time?
The three approaches will not work at the same time. The presidency is there for the Igbos if we win and in the absence of a presidency, restructuring. We believe that if you have a good President, he can convince Nigerians on the need for restructuring. Restructuring is very important. In its absence, that is when separatism will rear its ugly head but separatism is not really good for the Igbo. I don’t think it is a desired pursuit the way our younger men are going about it, by the way of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and any other force is being used.
But I can tell you, we should go restructuring and presidency first and any other thing will follow. In the views of our South-easterners, they believe that all views have really failed, that is why the agitation for separatism has gained currency so much that it has affected most of the things that are being done in the Southeast with the sit-at-home philosophy, which I may say is a measure of self-hate that has almost crippled business in the East. It is not desirable.
Tell us about the Southeast Leadership and Development Initiative (SELDI)?
Southeast Leadership and Development Initiative was set up to foster information dissemination among our people through various ways. One of our biggest mantras has been the think home philosophy and it was initially propounded by our leader, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, the former governor of Anambra State. We have had symposia, conferences and moving from one community to another to sensitise the people on the need to get their people in the Diaspora to think home. We also got through our conference in Lagos a couple of years ago to get industrialists to rub minds on how best to position the Southeast region industrially, if not politically and get to let our people know why it is necessary to think home. So that is really an area that we are passionate about in SELDI.
By your vintage position in the private sector, briefly assess the industrial development of the Southeast vis-à-vis the insecurity?
The level of insecurity in the zone is too high. People are no longer moving around because it has impacted negatively on productivity and industrial development of the region. The value of Monday in terms of output is higher than the rest of the days of the week put together. The issue of insecurity and sit-at-home to me is a measure of self-hate by the Igbo.
The sit-at-home is destroying the economy of the region. It is impacting negatively on the aggregate earning of the country and the problem there is that we don’t know how to stop it any longer. The civil servants are happy but employers are not happy. It has a debilitating impact on industrial development of the Southeast and it has slowed down development. A lot of industrialists have fled the Southeast and a place like Delta is gaining from the negative impact of the sit at home on Onitsha. The same thing is happening in Aba where Ikot Ekpeni is taking over the production zone. People that come from Central Africa to Aba stop at Ikot Ekpene.
Are you comfortable with the way leaders have handled the insecurity matter by allowing non-state actors to dictate the pace?
The governors of the Southeast have not performed well in this area of insecurity. Some of them seem to be aligning to the Federal system. Apart from Chukwuma Soludo who is talking about industrialisation, others don’t bother. The Southeast governor’s forum is not in existence. The last I heard of it was when Peter Obi was chairman. They have not cooperated among themselves to stop the insecurity in the Southeast. They need to do much more. They need to strengthen their efforts. They are dancing to discordant tunes.
What is your message for political office seekers and their supporters in this campaign period?
The candidates should be canvassing for ways and means of unifying Nigeria. They should be canvassing for equity, justice without which there can never be peace. They should canvass for how to enunciate policies that should be favourable to the rest of Nigeria. The terrible economic policies that have killed ports in Aba, Calabar and Port Harcourt should be reviewed. Those policies that should concentrate gateways to a region should be changed. Supporters of the candidates should play according to the rules. No hate speech, no thuggery and no killing before, during and after election.