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Ohuabunwa: Nigerians who advocate restructuring want nation to survive

By Lawrence Njoku
15 March 2020   |   4:32 am
Even the blind will see that our security architecture has failed in protecting the citizens. Despite government’s best efforts, we are still seeing Nigerians being killed needlessly.


Former MD/CEO, Pfizer/Neimeth, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, spoke to Southeast Bureau, CHIEF LAWRENCE NJOKU, on various topical issues.

• It Does Not Require Microscope To See That This Government Is Unfair To Southeast

How would you react to the level of insecurity in the country and government’s claim that it is overcoming the issue?
Even the blind will see that our security architecture has failed in protecting the citizens. Despite government’s best efforts, we are still seeing Nigerians being killed needlessly. They are being killed like rats and chickens all over the country, and perhaps worse in the northern part. So, we believe that the primary essence of government is security of life and property and welfare of the people. And as Governor el-Rufai courageously admitted, government has failed to deliver security to its people. There could be a thousand and one reasons for this, but the point is that the life of one Nigerian matters. Unfortunately, it has gone beyond one Nigerian and we now worry about the security architecture, we worry about the country’s future. It is certainly not at optimum right now.

There have been calls that current security chiefs be replaced with new ones. Would you see this as solving the problem?
I don’t know if it will bring a permanent solution, but I know it will be a right step to take. It is most unfortunate that, no matter the best efforts of these security chiefs, they have failed to win the war and therefore, the expectation everywhere is that if a CEO or Head of department is not delivering or meeting the targeted expectation, you change him. This is what is happening and it happens everywhere in the world.

People don’t wait to be changed. If they are given an assignment and it is not working probably because of circumstances beyond them, they resign, to show that they are sorry for not being able to achieve the target. In this case, we have a security situation that has worsened, and those manning this situation are sitting tight; Nigerians are clamouring for a change, but government is unyielding. It puzzles me. If people feel that these people are not performing and they have made their voices heard from the South, East, West and North, it really beats my imagination that nothing had been done. I really don’t understand it. If they are doing well and people are saying remove them and the President still has confidence in them, he can keep them. But there is clear evidence that the battle is not won, as is being erroneously claimed.

Besides, beyond Boko Haram battle, we have had many battles on so many other fronts. So, I am in support of those who said government should rejig its security architecture, including replacing these service chiefs. It is human beings that make all the difference. A good head is better than 10 coconut heads. I wonder why the President is so determined and ignores everything. Maybe there is something he knows that the rest of us do not know. But at the end of the day, the buck stops at his desk. If he is happy to carry the buck of failure of our security network; very well then. But we were thinking he would not run the security from Aso Rock. He will need lieutenants and those service chiefs and others represent those lieutenants.

I am amazed that for five years, these people have stayed and over stayed their normal duty tour, and yet we do not see the results. This, however, does not mean they are not working or that they are not making efforts. I wouldn’t say that, but we measure efforts by results, and not by the amount of energy you put into it.

How did we get to this point of insecurity? Like you pointed out, it had never been this bad?
I think a couple of factors have brought us here. First is the international terror network. Globally, terrorism has increased. There is terrorism in Somalia, Sahel, West Africa, Burkina Faso, Chad and Cameroun, among others. I do not know whether this is caused by climate change or some demons that have stirred up problem in the world.

Secondly, though there is terrorism, it is not every country that is affected at the same rate. In affected countries, you discover that there is poverty and unemployment. Our own case is worsened by lack of national cohesion. There is a lot of unhappiness in the country and sometimes, this unhappiness transforms into aggression, with neighbours and even friends attacking themselves. It is a complex thing. The other one I believe is due to internal issues that have not been well managed. I also believe that this country has not proven itself as being capable of punishing wrongdoing.

Many people get away with crimes. Policing has been below marks, such that criminals are not punished. They don’t even prosecute those who commit crimes. These things tend to brew more violence and give more audacity to criminals.

In America, if you commit a crime, you are sure they will find you, but here, you commit a crime and just vanish into thin air. I think we also need a total overhaul of our psyche, our managerial capacity of the way we run government, of the way we manage our country and the whole framework of people who live in a country and they are not happy about themselves and with their neighbours. There are things we can do. There are some other things we have to pray about and some other things we are helpless. But even the ones we are supposed to do, we are not doing them properly.

We have a situation whereby almost every zone in the country is talking about establishing regional security network. What does this tell us; can it curb the rising insecurity?
he point is that if you fail to do what you are supposed to do at the right time, things will develop, embarrass you and go above you. For many years, at different fora, political conferences and national conferences, we have been talking about restructuring and industrialisation. We have spoken about local policing, state policing, but some people said no, that there is enough police and that the regional police will be an abuse. These are the kind of arguments that have been going on.

Now, we have been forced into admitting that the Nigeria Police is not effective enough, as insecurity has overwhelmed them. They brought the army, but it has also overwhelmed the army. So, Nigeria has no choice than allow people find ways to defend themselves, which is what you are seeing in the regional outfits. The people are trying to defend themselves, since the government, whose responsibility it is to defend them is not doing so. Government’s defence is not adequate because people are still being killed. Whenever people are killed, they go to pay condolences, issuing statements on what they would do to the criminals. But the very next day, it happens again.

Human beings have the right to protect themselves. They don’t even need government’s permission to find ways to defend themselves. That is what you are seeing happening now. It is the restructuring we have been calling for that is being foisted on us; with our eyes wide open and we are still resisting it. This is the beginning. Sooner or later, things will go out of hands. We need to sit down and know how to get things resolved and do it in a manner that is not destructive, that will allow the country to move forward and continue to prosper. If we fail to do this, there will be consequences, and things will begin to happen.

When the zones started talking about regional security, the police started running around to talk about community policing, but these were issues we discussed 10 or 20 years ago, and nothing was done. I believe security is local, and if people now have the responsibility of protecting themselves, they are more likely to do a better job than when a foreigner is protecting them. What I mean by a foreigner is in terms of somebody who is not familiar with the environment, and who is not ready to die for the community. So, let people who are ready to die for their communities be the ones to protect their families and children.

How can someone start raping your wife and daughters in your presence and you can’t do anything because you are waiting for the Nigeria police or whoever to come and save you? I think time has come when Nigerians are being forced to take their destiny in their own hands. I know it will not solve the problem 100 percent, but it will give the people some psychological relief. If they have people they will trust, they will feel safer and because the people are part of the environment, they will have their ears to the ground. I think it is good for Nigeria.

We have tried our hands on the federal structure, but that has immobilised everybody and we are disempowered, the moment you open up a little bit. And that is why we are preaching restructuring the country, the people will be free to optimise their potentials, pursue their businesses, explore their natural resources and have the freedom to be their best. At the end of the day, it is the country that will benefit, as it will have less stress and people will probably live more peacefully. This may not solve the entire problem, but it is going to improve the situation.

When you say sitting down to discuss how to organise ourselves, is that a call for another national conference, bearing in mind that we have not implemented those of the past?
If you are going somewhere, and you have not reached your destination, what are you supposed to do? Turn back or sit down in the middle of the road? You will continue to move, until you get to where you are going. Obasanjo did his reforms Conference, which I was opportune to attend in 2005 or so, and we recommended how to protect the majority of Nigerians through restructuring the country to true federalism. It was rejected.

Dr. Jonathan brought his own, it didn’t work. The Abacha’s Constituent Assembly and the likes of Ekwueme, who were in that Constituent Assembly, recommended some of these things and that was why we came up with the six geo political zones and that was something we adopted, even though it is still not in the Constitution as such. So, I think if we cannot go back, since the President said he did want to read the report of the last national conference, maybe he would want to set up his own conference because everybody is calling for it.

There was a time it was as if it was the South’s agenda, but now, even some voices from the North have joined, and we all agreed we needed to rearrange this nation. Nobody should be afraid, because in 1962 and 1963, all the regions were doing well. There was a healthy rivalry among the regions. There was no problem. I went to the North, I saw groundnut pyramids, hide and skin. Same thing for the Southeast, Southwest and Middle Belt. They were all doing well. Those things are still needed today, as those commodities are still bringing money from the market.

So, if we have oil and other commodities, we decide how they could be shared among the people in a manner that rewards hard work, innovation and creativity. And there will be no problem. I am pleading that no region should be afraid, since it is something we are going to negotiate. So, I am not calling essentially for a conference, but if that is what will bring the current government to accept and begin to do the things Nigerians want, why not? If not, why not go back to 2005 or 2014 conferences, because we have enough there to begin this change.

You are one of those calling for a president of Igbo extraction come 2023. Why do you think this is achievable?
It is because since after the war, we have run a system where there is rotation of power from North to South and vice versa. Within those areas, you have Southwest, South-South and Northwest, Northeast and what have you. All the regions have produced civilian executive presidents. Southeast is the one that has not produced. So, if we are talking about natural justice, equity and fair play, if we are looking for unity and a country where everybody will feel that they have equal rights, then it is only logical that the Southeast be given an opportunity to produce president in 2023.

The Southeast people have voted for other regions. When it was Obasanjo, we voted for him. When it was for Yar’Adua, we voted for him. The same thing during Jonathan’s time. We voted for people from other zones because we believe in equity and fair play. We, therefore, think it is the logical thing to do to reassure the Southeast that they are bonafide citizens of this country, otherwise, there will always be this feeling of marginalisation, feeling of discrimination. We have insisted that it should be the Southeast’s turn and the clamour from other zones is not new. We need a Nigerian of Southeast extraction to bring balance, equity, as well as a greater unity of our nation, and that is why I am supporting that call.

How do you want the zone to go about this, considering they are not in control in the two leading political parties? The ruling party feels it is not liked in the zone?
In 1999, the Yoruba did not vote for Obasanjo, they did not vote for PDP, yet Obasanjo became President with other regions’ votes. In 2003, almost the same thing happened, yet the PDP did not say because Yoruba people did not vote for us, Obasanjo should not run again. The moment an election is done, it is over. The party that didn’t vote for you during one election may vote for you in another, because you have chosen a candidate they like. So, those historical factors don’t count; we are looking at the future. It does not make sense to say because Igbo didn’t vote for you; they should not get what they deserve.
It should not make you the President of one section, when you are supposed to be the President of the entire country.

When Yar’Adua came to power, PDP members from the Southeast voted for him. What I am saying is that the argument does not hold water because it is self-serving. Whether people vote for you or not, all we are saying is that this is Southeast’s turn. Every party has people from the Southeast; so, let them present Southeast candidates. I think it should not be a basis because if you go by who voted for us, there will not be unity of purpose; people are not fixated.

Look at what happened in Kano, the other time. Kano was a pro-APC party, but in the last election, it was almost 50-50 or even more pro-PDP, and that does not mean they are under APC or PDP. It is just the candidate that was produced that shaped the people’s response. It doesn’t matter where you are coming from and that is the freedom of choice. Voting is everybody’s prerogative, and I think if we believe in equity, justice and fair play, let the power rotate. And if it has rotated to all the other regions, we can come to a point where we will say we no longer want rotation and we will understand that. But it will not be fair, when one region finishes and it comes to another, you begin to tell us the story of how this region did not vote for you, and so you will not support it. It will not promote unity and equity.

How ready is the zone for this, when the people seem divided? Some are calling for restructuring, others say it is 2023 presidency and a few says it is Biafra. Where do we stand?
I think it is all symptomatic of the same disease that is afflicting the country. People are calling for restructuring; I don’t think there is any problem with it. It is not a static thing. Restructuring is not opposed to presidency in 2023. They are running on different platforms. So, I do not see any problem with that. If we get restructuring tomorrow, it will improve the opportunity of a Southeastern becoming president. If we get the president tomorrow, it will improve the opportunity for restructuring. The president that will restructure Nigeria is somebody who believes in it and if you ask me, who are those who believe most in restructuring Nigeria? I would tell you that Southeast is among those who believe in restructuring Nigeria because they want it to survive.

The Southeasterners believe in this country’s unity. They are the ones who travel all over the country. They set up businesses, marry and raise their children anywhere they are. There is no other ethnic nationality that believes in that. Igbos demonstrates this all the time. They want this country to prosper. I believe in restructuring and we are saying let’s pursue both. One will reinforce the other and you cannot say, let’s wait for one. What if you don’t get that one? Let’s go for the two and whichever one we get first, we will have the other one later. That is my belief.

To me, the young people talking about Republic of Biafra is also symptomatic of this feeling of mistreatment, marginalisation and discrimination, where people are not feeling that they have hope, that they have a future and that they are discriminated against. Two people are in the same class, one is leading the other, and he scores higher marks and does not get admission and the one that scores lower marks get admission. How do you begin to reconcile that?

When I went to school, there was no such thing. I did entrance exam and I was qualified. I went to Ibadan, to the University of Ife, and there was no discrimination. I am not from the West. I didn’t even want to go to the University of Nigeria Nsukka, which is in my own area. That was the country we lived in. How has it now become a country where we are no longer able to relate to one another and live in peace?

So, the people who are demanding another nation or Biafra, I think what they are looking for is a country where justice, equity and fair play will be the order. They are looking for a country where they will be treated equally, a country where they will be treated without looking at the colour of their head or sound of their name or geography of where they come from. They want a country that will take them as their own. That is what they are looking for. We can make Nigeria that country that protects everyone, treats everyone equitable and fairly, a country where every child has the right to grow and will not be discriminated against. But it is a question of, ‘if you don’t want us here, show us where you want us to go.’ The moment we get Nigeria working for the good of everyone, I assure you that the agitation will decline.

How do you react to the notion that Ndigbo have not fared better in this administration?
It does not require any microscope. It is clear that this government has not been fair to Southeast people. For the five years that the government has been in power, there is no Igbo person in the echelon of security from the police to the army, be it air force, civil defence, military intelligence, EFCC and what have you. From 2015, we have been crying about it and someone does not feel that our voice means anything. There is no government appointment, except the ones constitutionally provided that have accommodated the Southeast.

Ask an Igbo person; he will tell you the same thing. Only those with conscience are the ones speaking against it. It is only those who want this country to be together and prosper that are speaking against it. They are worried that Igbo are being marginalised and discriminated against in this country. People are seeing it and they are not happy. It will go down in history that during this administration, Igbos have their lowest participation in government.