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To keep Nigeria united, Ndigbo must take its turn at presidency, says Nebo

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Former Minister of Power, Prof Chinedu Nebo

Former Minister of Power, Prof Chinedu Nebo, in this interview with Southeast Bureau Chief, LAWRENCE NJOKU, explains why Ndigbo should be allowed to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023 and why stable power supply will continue to elude the country.

Ndigbo wants their turn to be President in 2023. What is your involvement in this campaign?
The call for Igbo presidency in 2023 was borne out of patriotism. For me, getting interested in that dream for an Igboman to become president of Nigeria is because it is like the Igbo are no longer a factor in the Nigerian struggle. It is like there is a plan to exclude the Igbo from getting any political power or clout that will give them an executive advantage in the country.

The clamour for the state of Biafra to be reborn was borne out of the massive ill-treatment of Ndigbo, disenfranchisement of Ndigbo, the unspeakable treatment of Ndigbo that have driven many of our young people to despair and despondency. So, when you talk to the typical young person, they feel that there is no hope for them in the entity called Nigeria and that is why some of them are so determined to the point of giving their lives to have independence and to become free from this shackles that Nigeria has placed on Ndigbo.

For those of us who feel otherwise, I have always believed in one strong virile country, called Nigeria. Together we are stronger, better, and we can turn the lots of the country around. The dismemberment of Nigeria is not in the best interest of the black race. But in order to prevent that, Ndigbo must be given pride of place again in this country and that will come from an Igboman mounting the saddle of presidency in Nigeria. I think this is very important because if it does not happen, more people will become restive.

For instance, right now, one of the most neglected geopolitical zones in the country is the Southeast. In terms of infrastructure development, it appears the federal government sometimes forgets that the region is part of Nigeria with regards to the distribution of amenities and infrastructure. Unfortunately, the political elite in Nigeria is the most selfish and unpatriotic. They are amassing huge amounts of wealth but they would cough out all that wealth if the system breaks under the weight of corruption, malevolence in leadership and the despicable treatment of Ndigbo.

I think that to redress this from an Igbo perspective, each political party should determine that they would nominate an Igbo presidential candidate in 2023. That is the way to get the presidential zoning structure restored. It has happened before with the Yoruba when the major political parties decided that the Yoruba would take up the mantle of leadership and each of them nominated a Yoruba candidate (Falae and Obasanjo, and Obasanjo won). So, I am saying that an Igbo man should be given that opportunity now, to redress the very obvious disenfranchisement of Ndigbo. I believe that it is going to calm frayed nerves and remove a lot of stress from our young people who are progressively thinking that the only way out is for the southeast to break off from Nigeria.

How could this happen, when the two major parties do not seem ready to court the Southeast?
One thing at the centre of all these is the issue of justice, equity and fair play. Grabbing power is the desire of every political party but with social justice on their agenda, the parties would think about the future of the country, and not about the transient nature of power.

Nigeria cannot regain prominence as the giant of Africa by having sections of the country neglected and disenfranchised. Politicians need to get together and think about how to heal the country. That was what eventually brought Obasanjo back to power. It was felt that if Abiola won election and it was cancelled, the Southwest could be pacified with this.

In the southeast, it would appear that we are being punished on a regular basis. Our politicians may be cowards but a typical Igboman is not a coward. If PDP decides it is going to have a policy of dismemberment and disenfranchisement against Ndigbo, then Ndigbo will abandon PDP. The APC has the policy of total disenfranchisement of Ndigbo and that is why the hardcore Igbo are not joining APC. If the APC were to reverse that, and get an Igbo presidential candidate, the party will sweep through the southeast.

So, I would suggest that the political parties agree to it as a matter of social justice. A situation where the north has had it for eight years and southwest has had it for eight years and now wants to get back to it, does it show social justice, equity or fair play? We need to begin to think about these things and not looking at it purely from a political perspective of grabbing power.

Is there a disagreement on this project, as Ohanaeze appears to be concerned with restructuring as against Igbo presidency?
I wouldn’t support restructuring alone without giving the Igbo a presidential slot. I totally agree with the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo that Nigeria must restructure. This is because Nigeria is sick terminally. And the only way to cure Nigeria is by restructuring. I strongly believe that and seriously more so than Igbo presidency.

We need to restructure the polity to a point where the entire country would go back to true federalism or even confederation, where the centre is not as powerful as it is today. It is a powerful centre that brings about so much corruption in the land. If you are holding strong in your place and the centre feels that they want to use you, they use you to destroy anybody as much as you are willing to collect crumbs. So, I would say restructuring is number one. But in addition to that, restructuring does not preclude us, it doesn’t mean that the Igbo cannot run the presidency. If we restructure and decide to heal the psyche of our people, you should give them a shot at the presidency. That is what I am saying.

How do we achieve restructuring without executive power and with the 1999 constitution favouring a segment of the country in power?
Restructuring is not an issue of the presidency. It is more of the National Assembly members doing what is right. If we didn’t have cowards in the National Assembly, if we had true representatives of the people, they would see that the way to heal Nigeria is by restructuring. The president could decide to restructure, but if the National Assembly says no, he cannot succeed.

Remember that the APC came up with a kind of agenda that they were going to restructure. But the moment they were declared a winner in the election, that agenda died. The truth is that the nation will thrive better regionally. Look at how wonderful it was in the days of our leaders like Azikiwe, Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and so on. Look at the northern economy, the western economy and eastern economy, look at the Universities that were built. Where are these things today? Why do you think Ahmadu Bellow preferred to be Premier of the North than to be Nigeria’s Prime Minister? The regions had healthy competition and everybody was moving forward until the military introduced a unitary government to suppress the people. That is where the problem started. If the regions were allowed to develop at their pace, Nigeria would be a flourishing country now.

We should allow more power to the geo-political zones to the level of self-determination and you would see what will happen. If you ask me whether I would choose between an Igboman becoming president of Nigeria and Igboland becoming the Japan of Africa, I would choose Igboland becoming the Japan of Africa. We need massive industrial development in Igboland and it is by the restructuring that we could have the power and resources to do this.

We recently marked 59 years of Independence as a country. What’s your opinion about Nigeria?
Nigeria at 59 is like a description of a 59-year-old toddler, crawling with diapers and with saliva dropping down his cheeks. Nigeria is ill. We have not had the kind of leadership that could remove Nigeria from its booby traps, and pull us from the quagmire of ills and corruption that we are in now. Leadership has been mediocre and still flagrantly and eminently mediocre. You see this at the federal level and at the state level. It diffuses to the local government level. It is unfortunate. Look at Singapore. In one generation, they went from the third world to the first world. Nigeria was better-off than Singapore in those days but see where we are today. Consider Malaysia that we taught how to grow palm trees and palm fruits. What has killed the vision is very poor, inept leadership.

What do you think worsened the security situation of the country?    
I am not a security expert but when you have a situation where people are disenfranchised, the level of poverty would skyrocket. Inflation is there, hunger and starvation, the hospital facilities are not working and are deplorable, yet people have to survive. They have to find a means to survive.

Kidnapping didn’t start in Igboland but came to a level where Igboland became the worst place with regards to security where people were being bought and sold. In Aba, several years ago, people were kidnapped ever so cheaply that if you sent enough recharge cards, they released the victims. It is horrifying but the government, unfortunately, is not addressing the disease. The government has perennially addressed the signs and symptoms.

This whole issue of a just, fair and equitable society must be addressed; everybody must feel a part of this country. I believe that when the government begins to take social justice very seriously, the issue of security will be addressed. If everybody is happy, if people are gainfully employed after graduation, we would have cured security challenges.

Power Supply has remained an issue and under you, the federal government privatised power as part of the solution. Yet, we appear to be worse off. Was the privatization not properly handled?
I would not say that what Nigeria did by privatising power was not well thought out. I would have approached it gradually and systematically by not doing one fell-swoop privatisation. That massive privatisation was very good but there were flaws in it. Some of the companies and entities that won the bid were not the best; they were not prepared. They didn’t have the capital and they didn’t have the expertise to take us to the next level. If those had been taken care of, there would have been a huge improvement, which would not have completely solved the power problems.

One of the best things that the Goodluck Jonathan administration did for Nigeria was the privatisation of the power sector.  Power is better off in the hands of private enterprise not under the government. However, we have serious structural problems with regard to power delivery.

Remember what the government did – privatised the generation (Gencos), privatise the distribution companies and retained the transmission company. Now, the entire flow of power in the country is on the transmission company. I have no problem with the government holding onto that because it is sensitive enough, and the government had not done the wrong thing retaining it.

However, the government is not infusing the level of resources to make the transmission system robust enough to carry more power. One thing most people don’t realize is that by the time we left office, we had over 10,000MW installed capacity and the capacity to deliver over 5000 megawatts. We came close at a point but anytime you came close to 4400 or more than that, we would see the system become shaky and unstable. The reason is that we have more generation capacity than transmission capacity. The right thing technically and by engineering principles is that we should have 150 percent transmission over generation power so that if you have the capacity to produce 10,000megawatts of powers, your transmission line should be able to carry 15,000megawatts of power and your distribution line should be able to carry 20,000 megawatts. In Nigeria, it is not like that. The transmission network is feeble, unstable and that was why the government spent a substantial amount of money to beef up the transmission system.

Under President Jonathan, a lot of work was done and that was why we were able to get to that level of transmission, but that was not enough. The problem with the Nigerian power sector is that it mimics an adage or saying in China, which is that if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expect a different result each time, it will never work and it amounts to insanity.

The cure to Nigeria’s endemic and perennial power problem is embedded generation and distributed power where you don’t go for these massive power plants since we do not have the trillions of naira to get the transmission network to make electricity go to every nook and cranny of Nigeria. We must switch to embedded generation or distributed power. Nigeria does not have the luxury of that kind of money spent on power and neglecting other sectors.

It should, therefore, allow for embedded generation and distributed power so that smaller power plants could be taken to areas where the power is needed without having to go through the transmission network. Doing that, Nigeria can quickly generate 20,000 megawatts in two years’ time. Whereas, to do that using the transmission line would take decades. In my handover note, I included this thing but I don’t believe that the current administration read our power handover note because they believe that everything under Jonathan was bad. I think the future will show that Jonathan did a lot for this country. Unfortunately, people who believe that they know everything refused to even read the notes we left behind to even decide whether to abide by them or do something else advisedly.


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