‘How unpatriotic politicians undermine vision of Nigeria’s founding fathers’
The big scar in the left side of his abdomen bore testimony to the daring save; hence Azikiwe nicknamed him, “the boy is good.” Even against his doctor’s advice to take a deserving rest away from the worrisome politics of contemporary Nigeria, Amechi, who recently returned home after being hospitalised for about two weeks in Abuja, could not stay quiet for too long, especially when the politics and leadership issues of Nigeria were mentioned. He spoke to CHRISTIAN CHIME at his Ukpor country home in Anambra State.
Congratulations on your recent 90th birthday celebration. How does it feel to be 90?
IT is sweet to be 90-years-old. It is a situation to which one should give glory and great gratitude to God.
To be 90, the ordinary man would be happy, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. But for someone like me, being 90, yes, I am grateful to the Almighty God. However, on reflection, I am not very happy, particularly being myself if I take my memory back to what I did in conjunction with other nationalists to create what is called Nigeria.
To found what is now called Nigeria and what sacrifices we made to see it through and being given mandate run the government of the country that we founded, many things have gone and are still going wrong. We were there for only six years, but unpatriotic military men struck and disorganised everything. Since then, the country has been going down.
What is sustaining Nigeria is the presence of great deposits of natural oil and gas. These are the things that have kept Nigeria going. Otherwise, it would have disintegrated long ago.
The military introduced massive looting and they stole and stole, because there is so much money coming daily from the international and local sales of the oil and gas.
Thereafter, they handed over to their surrogates, political surrogates who are now running or do I say, ruining the country. They continued what the military gave to them- looting, stealing and killing.
That is why people today spend not millions anymore, but billions to get into political offices, either as a governor, national or state assembly members or even as a minister. I would have added the commissioners, but most of them are reduced to just clerks, as the governor’s don’t give them any function or assignment, they have no decision. They cannot run anything; the governors run the states as sole administrators.
You asked how I feel; I feel sad! Am not happy the way Nigeria, the nation we loved, founded and nurtured is going today. Am happy and grateful on one side that God gave me the gift of long life, which not many people enjoy.
I am certainly not a happy man looking at the country, looking at the residue of the great country that we founded.
But what is your wise counsel as the way forward?
Honestly, I don’t know, because how can I tell a thief to stop stealing and he agrees? In Ghana, it was tackled in a revolutionary way. The man who tackled it was a military man alright, but he was a patriotic officer.
But Nigeria is too big. Here, people get into government and create more problems.
Since you were there when Nigeria was created, which aspect of our national life today is no longer in line with the vision of the founding fathers?
There is no more patriotism. In our time, we went into politics and national service for what we could give. This time, people go into politics for what they can get and take out of politics. These are the two opposing differences.
What is your assessment of the leadership generally?
Nigeria was standing on a tripod; three major legs. Sad that today, the nation is standing on one wobbly leg and another rheumatic leg. The principal leg is wobbly, while the second leg is rheumatic. Is that healthy? So, it could break at any time.
But if the holy men- the leaders of the churches and mosques like, let them pray, because it is only God Almighty that can solve the problem of Nigeria. I don’t see a solution coming within the present set up. Only God, helping the Nigerian people can solve the problem.
Only Igbo people forced themselves back into Nigeria. They had tried to go away, they were stopped from going away and they now want to be inside, but they are not allowed in. They are accepted in if only they accepted the position of slave status.
So, it is for them to fight their way back to take their rightful place and position in the country. It needs proper planning, galvanising, strategising, mobilising and of course, winning people, because there is nothing they can do alone.
I ask the Igbo talking about presidency 2023, how can you become president by merely wishing or wanting to be president? Is it an Igbo president? You are talking of Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. So, how can you, without planning, without strategising, without reaching out want to be president.
‘We must be given president,’ ‘we must be give the president,’ who told you that president is given, particularly in a country where presidency is the quickest way to the central bank?
Insecurity, mistrust and lack of cohesion are clearly looming large in our national life today and many are very worried. Are you worried too?
Why should I not be worried? I am very concerned, because it is human beings like me that are being killed on daily basis. It is youths like my own children that are being killed. I don’t feel happy about it at all.
In our own time, when we were fighting, yes, we were prepared to die, but to die for a cause. We were prepared to sacrifice our lives for a worthy national cause. Ironically, today men, women, children and innocent people are killed.
See what is happening in Borno, Zamfara, Yobe, Adamawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Benue states, etc. See what they are trying to do from Benue down to the Southeast. See what is happening in Nsukka and Uzor-Uwani areas and our governors keep mute. Our governors are dumb. They are timid.
What is your advice to President Muhammadu Buhari as a way forward and out of these disturbing challenges?
Well, I don’t know, the President is a Fulani. The Fulani herdsmen are the ones who are armed. So, I don’t know what he can sincerely do, because that reality places him in a difficult position.
Is he aware of what is happening? Does he condone what is happening? Or is he against it? In all these, to what extent is he going to fight his own people?
But the question is: Who is arming them? How are they getting the supplies of these sophisticated weapons? The same question goes to the Boko Haram situation, which recruits and trains people in handling of weapons and other sophisticated war appliances. They maintain their positions, they go out and they have foods and water supply, yet they say they are in the forest. They have electricity, fuel supply, vehicles, mechanics, families, doctors, communication experts, etc.
Who is deceiving who? These people have engineers who service their ammunition and supplies of spare parts. They have huge money with which they pay their people and take care of their needs.
I don’t think they have really told us what is going on. The government needs to tell Nigerians what is happening. Whichever way it is viewed, we have not been told the whole truth about this Boko Haram story.
The allegation of Islamisation or Fulanisation of Nigeria, real or imagined, had never been in the country’s political lexicon/equation. What could be fueling the speculation?
The late Sarduana of Sokoto tried it in the past, but didn’t succeed. That was in 1960 to 1962 when he started it from Benue and wanted to make headway there and to be his base to launch moves down south to Cross River and Enugu areas. But Joseph Tarka and others mobilised and stopped him. We were in alliance. The NCNC was in alliance with them and the government said no.
Incidentally, the prime minister then, though he was a northerner, supported us. He said he didn’t want enforced or forceful Islamisation. Tafawa Balewa said anyone who wanted o change his religion should do so on his own volition.
Are these documented in our history books, because most Nigerians pretend it never occurred or existed?
Are you not aware that the military, in order to stop the future generation and the rising generation from knowing what happened and is happening in the country abolished the teaching of history in schools in Nigeria?
Your friend, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, we learnt visited you recently. Is it true?
Yes, he came. He visited me on my birthday on June 16, the day my Ukpor community unveiled my statue and was unveiled by him.
What was the atmosphere like, given that at a time in the recent past, your relationship with him became frosty?
Whenever my friend does something wrong, I always tell him he was wrong, and when he does what is good, I tell him it is good.
My disagreement with him was over Dr. Chris Ngige. It was about the way the late Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Raphael Ige, handled Ngige during the governor’s abduction in 2003 and Obasanjo, as the President and Commander-in-Chief, said nothing, instead he looked the other way and closed his eyes to it.
He condoned it and it made me sad. I didn’t like it at all and I told him so.
Since it was the root cause of your quarrel and you’ve not met since then until he came, did it come up in your chat during the visit…?
(Cuts in) Well, we just sat down and had a friendly chat, touching on wide range of national issues. Since then, we have spoken again on the phone yesterday (Monday) and discussed the December programme of my birthday, because my children said we should just commemorate it this month and do the elaborate celebraion in December.
Then, Obasanjo would come again and we are going to invite President Muhammadu Buhari, because the truth is, whether anyone likes to hear it or not, I am the father of Nigeria today. There is no one living that is my senior in the politics of the country today. All the people who played politics with me have gone. All the people who were ministers with me have all gone.
So, I don’t see myself as a former politician; I see myself as a father to the nation. I am a father to Nigeria.
You have seen the pre-Republic and in fact, all the Republics? Having witnessed all these, are you impressed? What would you like Nigeria to become?
How I wish it were possible, I will like to see Nigeria back to what it was when the nationalists were in control of government. Nationalists who went into government not for what they would get, leaders such as Nnamdi Azikiwe; Michael Okpara; Obafemi Awolowo; the Sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, etc.
You won’t see any of them building or owning any house anywhere. Go to Lagos then, the minister of Lagos Affairs, who was distributing land in Lagos, was Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua, but he didn’t own a plot himself in Lagos. The Sarduana never owned a plot at Kaduna.
Azikiwe, as the President, even as premier of Eastern Region for years before becoming governor general and President never owned any house. The only house he had was the Ikeja Mansion he built long before independence, which the Western Region government of Ladoke Akintola nationalised and took over from him by force.
Okpara did not have a house even at home. It was such that when he was in exile and was about to return, his wife vehemently opposed his intension to return, not for any other reason, but because she said how could he come back to this mud house? It was Mbanugo, Walter Eze, Christian Onoh and I that met and raised money and went and helped the woman build a house for Okpara to return to.
Okpara never owned a house, yet he was a premier of the Eastern Region for six good years. Who will believe it in the context of the so-called leaders of today? Now, a minister for three months is rich enough to buy the entire Ukpor town and no one asks questions. Is that what you call service? Service to who? To your pocket or to the country? Today, a governor for one term is richer than the state over which he presided. What kind of country is this?
People of the Southeast now face pressures to return home, despite their huge investments in their current places of abode. Yet, they seem not to read the handwritings on the wall. What will it take them to begin to think home?
It won’t be too easy to think home. Igbos are born sojourners; even if they come home, the land mass is not enough to accommodate them. Do you realise there are more Igbos outside than those at home?
So, the strategy for Ndigbo should not be a way to come home, but of course, advocate think-home. Come and set up industries at home instead of investing everything in other places, especially in places where you are not wanted or appreciated.
For example, an Igbo man who owns a tomato processing factory at Sagamu, Ikorodu or Madagali, what does he stand to gain, because tomatoes doesn’t grow in any of those areas? Why not come and set it up in Nnewi, Ukpor, Amichi, Ideani or Abakaliki. After all, tomatoes still come from Zamfara axis, which is closer here than those places he may chose to establish his factory.
On the issue of presidency, I have told them to come to me, that is my field. I tell you, it is easy for Igbo to become a president of this country, but it involves a lot of strategising, organisation and planning. I have told them to come to me and I will tell them how to go about it.
I don’t care whether it is All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any other party. I want members of the political parties to come to me and I would tell them what to do to get an Igbo man or woman as the presidential candidate.
But why is it that after 60 years of nationhood, we still attach so much importance to ethnic cleavages in politics?
That is the unfortunate reality of the Nigerian polity, where particularly the Igbos have been pushed to the wall of a very tight corner. That is the sad and unfortunate reality of the Nigerian politics.
Nigerian politics is based on ethnicity, religion and, of course, money.