Prominent Igbo leader and member of the Southern Leaders Forum, Chief Guy Ikokwu, in this interview with BANKOLE SHAKIRUDEEN ADESINA, reiterates that a holistic restructuring of the country is the only antidote to disintegration. Excerpts:
How do you rate President Muhammadu Buhari’s government after two years in office?
The performance of this government in the last two years has been far below expectation. Infrastructure is zero. Education is minus zero. Road transportation is in shambles. There is nothing to write home about on aviation; the country is in chaos. At best, I would give the government 15 per cent overall.
Do you think that is fair enough, given some efforts being put up by the government?
What effort are they putting up after two years? Except you don’t live in this country otherwise, you would have applauded my generosity.
For instance, under the said two years, the President has left the country on health safari for almost 150 days. This is almost half of one of the two years. That adventure, you were aware, did practically cripple our economy.
And the government kept saying its working hard on a robust economy for the people of the country. They kept saying that the result is not yet significant because of the extent of mess they met on ground. But the question is they knew how the country was before they promised us a holistic change if we voted them into power. And that was why we did vote them. Now it’s time to govern, they are telling us stories. Why should they not be blamed for failing to deliver on their political promises? For me, that is not acceptable.
Another example is the much talked about corruption crusade of the government. The President has made it known that one of his cardinal projects is the anti-corruption war. But I can tell you authoritatively now that if you juxtapose what is happening to what happened before, you will realize that corruption is now more than we could ever imagine before and that the actual seat of corruption today is the Aso Rock itself.
The wife of the President, Hajia Aisha Buhari has directly and indirectly acknowledged this on different occasions. For instance, she has alleged that in spite of sufficient annual funding, the State House Clinic doesn’t even have syringe, cotton wool and all the first aid medical materials expected even in a health center. And that is the clinic the President of the country is supposed to use!
After the alarm, media investigations have further shown that this is an hospital that has collected almost N4billion in 2015, about the same amount in 2016 and N3.25billion this year. Altogether it’s safe to say that Aso Rock Clinic has collected over N10billion in the last three years. And it doesn’t have cotton wool nor syringe, the basic first aid materials! Therefore, if such brazen corruption could be happening at that level, you will agree that the situation is hopeless for the poor masses.
Do you still believe in the integrity of President Buhari to fight corruption in the country?
The corruption crusade is not holistic. It’s prejudiced by what I call not doing the right thing at the right time. He is being used to castigate some selected individuals. Meanwhile, the constitution is explicit that any individual that has been found to be corrupt should naturally be dealt with according to the rule of law. If they have to be sent to jail, they should be sent to jail without delay.
What specifically are you speaking about?
We have a case of recovered foreign currency at Osborne, Ikoyi of the Intelligence Agency that we still do not know where the money is and anything about the people behind it.
The suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal was said to have used N270million for grass-cutting at the IDP camps. Nothing has been decisively said about it while the report of an investigation headed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has been submitted to the President.
Till date, the President has not taken any action on it. Has the guy returned our money? Is he only suspended? Is he still collecting salary? Why has the President refused to act on the report submitted to him on Lawal? We need to know. It’s our right to know.
Are you aware that the said government official has been suspended indefinitely?
Yes, but suspension is not a determinant of whether somebody is guilty of corruption charge or not. And that is not acceptable at all.
As a member of the Southern Leaders Forum, you have said unequivocally that restructuring is the only antidote to political disintegration. What is your own definition of the restructuring you have been advocating?
Those that claim they don’t understand the meaning of the word “restructuring” are the ignoramuses of the 21st century. Their claim is hogwash. Otherwise, they simply should have checked their dictionary or the constitution of the Federal Republic for education.
The word “restructuring” is a simple and unambiguous term that is literarily and politically understood by all Nigerians. And it simply means “devolution of power to the federating units.” Otherwise when you concentrate all the power in the exclusive list of the center, such would become inimical to an inclusive economic and political growth of the governing components.
Ask anybody who knows something about governance system and law, they would tell you that what we are operating at the moment is best called “Unitary system of government,” supported by a military constitution.
And that is why everything appeared to be failing. A good example is the failure of the Federal Government at giving us electricity, in spite of the heavy investments in the sector. But if the states are given the power to independently manage the generation and transmission of the essential commodity, the country would have long passed this problem. We have hydro carbon, wind, solar and coal to drive the generation and sustenance of this commodity.
The same is applicable to the construction of roads. If you allow Lagos State, for instance, to build the Airport Road and that of Apapa according to its resources and priorities, things would have moved faster. And the economy would be better for it. And as Lagos is doing its own, Ekiti would also be working. Ditto with Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Ogun states.
Enugu state will use its coal endowment to provide electricity for its people as it used to provide before. In the past, the same Enugu coal was used to produce and supply electricity to Lagos when the federal capital was resident in the metropolis. The coal is shipped to Ijora Badia where the power station is cited for production and transmission.
When these are done, the economy will then move faster and everybody will be happy for it. If Nigeria is holistically restructured today, we will not need World Bank to give us any loan, which will eventually become a burden on generations to come for repayment. We will be self-sufficient and efficient.
We have practiced this before and it has worked, but for the military incursion, which has now passed its dictatorial indoctrination to us in form of a constitution. During the regional government, everything was working almost to perfection. No one can ever imagine Awolowo, Azikwe or Ahmadu Bello going to Tafawa Balewa in Lagos, asking him for money to pay for their workers? It’s almost a taboo. Each region was excelling at a competitive stage.
So, we need to return to this. And this process can be done through a holistic restructuring of the country, which SLF and other leaders are demanding.
In response to the demand, President Buhari has inaugurated a committee headed by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to harmonise thoughts into a blueprint. Has El-Rufai’s committee met with SLF yet?
The Committee has been going round the country to meet their political party followers instead of the real stakeholders. But even at that, they have got to the East and received 100% support for restructuring; dtto for their visit to the Southwest and Southsouth. When they got to the North, 90% of the attendees were still united in support of restructuring. No doubt, the clamour is genuine and patriotic and that is why it has enjoyed national support.
Therefore, if everybody is speaking with one voice, demanding for a new paradigm shift, the question would then be what is the problem hindering the implementation of that?
It is being said that the ultimate objective of SLF is to eventually enthrone an Igbo presidentin 2023, how true is this?
We (Ndigbo) are not interested in the Igbo president for now. Not under this type of constitution. As the country is currently structured, such an idea doesn’t just resonate with us. We simply want a restructured and functional Nigeria over the Igbo presidency now because a restructured Nigeria is far better than a Igbo presidency today. And I believe I am speaking the mind of 85 % of Ndigbo on this.
If Nigeria is restructured today, only a few people would want to waste their time becoming the president because the position will just be like a ceremonial president. But if you fail to restructure, the next president would continue to fund a hospital like that of Aso Rock Clinic without any syringe or cotton wool.
However, the alliance of the southern leaders is for the purpose of political and developmental stability in the country. For instance, all the formidable ethnic groups have been aligned into a body called Southern Leaders Forum. In this group, the Afenifere Group is a member.
The group is in favor of restructuring the country and whittling of the Federal Government’s power from 68 % to at least 20 % thereby returning most of the governance back to the federating units.
In the North-west and North-east otherwise known as far North, the division is almost 60 % in favor of restructuring the country.
So, restructuring has gained the overwhelming support of almost 85 % of Nigerians. Therefore, the essence of democracy is to respect this clear message. And any government that opposes such a message is doomed to failure.
Has the position of SLF on restructuring been officially communicated to the government?
Our message is loud and clear. And everything is communicated directly and indirectly to those governing the country.
As a hero of the Civil War, how do we move on and effectively reintegrate the region back into the mainstream?
We have been doing that since the last two years now. But first, we want the policy and the system of governance, as it is now, to be changed. We want the vast majority of Nigeria to exist and integrate under a just, equitable and a levelled playing ground.
We want the majority of Nigerians to start having technological and entrepreneurial driven education locally. We want all the regions to prioritize a functional and globally competitive education with 25 % to 35 % funding in the budget annually.
We have done this before and it was successful. During the first republic, Obafemi Awolowo operated free education for the southwest. Most of those who benefitted from this are today the pride of global intellectual community. Between 1950-1958, the standard of education in Nigeria, under the regional government was even better than that of England.
What is your message for the Indigenous People of Biafra, its leader, Nnamdi Kanu and the teeming followers?
What they are clamouring for is justified. But they should not ask for the creation of another country. Biafra is not a territorial matter, it has evolved into a concept which simply means to do things your father and mother couldn’t achieve. That is Biafra. To be able to work hard, train your children, learn, grow, and invent things that have not been invented before. That is Biafra. Biafra is a think-tank. Biafra is not for unemployed people to be walking about the street looking for food in the market to eat.
Ojukwu said don’t fight a second civil war. Any country that fights a second civil war has simply not learnt anything from history. So, the IPOB boys are our children, we can’t disown them. And we have the responsibility to cater for them.