Nwodo: Restructuring Will End Clamour For Rotational Presidency

Nnia Nwodo, President General, Ohanaeze Nd'Igbo.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, told our Southeast Bureau Chief, LAWRENCE NJOKU why the country needs restructuring over other agitations in the land.

Why have you maintained the call for restructuring against the agitation for Igbo presidency in 2023?

It is undoubtedly Igbo’s turn to produce the president in 2023, under the current Constitution. Anybody who denies this fact is deliberately throwing the country into chaos. It is incontestable and if there must be justice and fairness in the system, it must be the Igbo’s turn, and I implore all political parties to take cognizance of this fact.

I have been misunderstood on the issue of restructuring, as I have continuously said the only way to stop this sectional politics and deliberate leadership marginalization is to restructure the country. And I refer to the pre-independence period, when we had a Constitution that was agreed to by our forefathers, which I am praying we return to, as it achieved better result for our economy.

The Premier of Northern Nigeria rejected to be Prime Minister of the federation because the region was more powerful than the Federal Government. In a restructured Nigeria, the craze to become President or Prime Minister and to operate the zoning system will fizzle out, because the restructured independent components will have sovereignty of their natural resources and the country’s economic growth will be determined by the regions, and not the Federal Government. The Federal Government’s responsibility should be limited to defense, external relations, as well as customs and excise.

The presidency is attractive to people because of the country’s vast resources, which is being centrally held. The President has so much power and anybody who wants to use it to feather his nest will do so, as long as he has legislative majority. This has been the pattern since the 1999 Constitution took off. All I am saying is that, once the 1999 Constitution is overthrown and there is an agreement among Nigerians to restructure, the clamour over where the President comes from will no longer be an issue.

It does not vitiate the point that, as long as the current Constitution is used, the rotational tradition cannot be stopped. When we had regional governments, we were doing much better and our institutions were working.

Where did we get it wrong as a nation?

You know that the army’s incursion into governance destroyed the country’s evolution of democratic terms. Then, we detested the lack of absolute transparency in the electoral system, which led to thuggery and sometimes rigging. But what is happening these days is much worse than what we had then. The thuggery and rigging have developed to a sophisticated scale, far in excess of what obtained when we had regional governments.

In fact, the reason a state of emergency was declared was because the coalition of NCNC and Action Group won the election, but it was declared in favour of Akintola’s party. And to show Akintola that he did not win, the coalition decided to ensure there was no governance in the country. They filed lawsuits, and maimed Akintola’s followers. They burnt people alive. It was clear that the majority of the people on the streets were those who won the election, and the Federal Government that supported Akintola decided to appoint Majekodunmi as the administrator of Western region.

The unfortunate thing is that people of this generation have not been given opportunity to read history of what happened in the past and so, when we say these things, it looks like we are just talking, that it is not grounded in history. But the truth is that those of us that witnessed it feel so demoralised, because life was much better then.

Presently, the demand for oil is going down. The direction education is going globally will do away with old methods of producing oil. Those countries developing these technologies have left us behind. Even our teachers have no capacity to teach the children new modules because they have not been trained for it.

You blame military incursion for the country’s woes, but you served as minister in Abdulsalami Abubakar’s administration…

The Abdulsalami Abubakar regime was a transition government. We assumed office in August and handed over in May. We were basically in government for eight to nine months, and the sole agenda was to return the country to civil rule. As the Minister of Information, it was my responsibility to mobilize all transition agents to ensure that the people were aware of the electoral rules and procedure for election, voter’s rights and rules governing the process.

So, since we were focused on having a new government, there was no need introducing fresh policies we could not complete. Because of its short stay in power, every Minister that served in Abdulsalami’s administration must not be held responsible for the country’s under-development. What I did in the Ministry of Information has not been erased.

As Minister of Information, I changed all the television studios of NTA and FRCN. I gave instant broadcasting capacity to NTA and FRCN, using brand new motorized studios. I insisted that the manufacturers supplied us directly, which they did at a discount. The engineers from the two corporations watched the assemblage of the facilities, which is why they are still working. I also bought new vehicles and new cameras.

You are one of the Igbo leaders marked for attack by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), though you supported the group for some time. At what point did you disagree with them?

I think IPOB is misguided, and what I feel is that sometimes when their revenue is low, they look for cheap publicity, just to create the impression that there is disunity in Igboland. Nobody has defended IPOB in Igboland more than me, and I am wondering whether some us deserve what we are getting from the organisation.

Only a few days ago, an Ambassador sent me a film of the invasion of the Nigerian Embassy in Conakry, and I am yet to understand why it happened. The people that invaded the Embassy are clearly Igbos and some of them had the Biafran flags and were chanting, “Iwe n’ewe anyi,” meaning ‘we are angry.’ They made it obvious they were Igbos.

They tore the Nigerian flags, as they went with Biafra flags. They broke air conditioners and windows. For crying out loud, why would you fall into the trap of the Nigerian government declaring you as terrorists? Is that how people undertake lawful demonstrations? I found it funny.

If there is a war today, will the people doing these things be able to fight? I was a Biafran solider at an impressionable age of 17. These boys cannot be more Biafran than I am. I worked under Col. Onwuatuegwu of blessed memory. It is easy to sit in an arm-chair in their comfort zone, with funds donated to them by Nigerians all over the place and make pontifical pronouncements. It is rather unfortunate.

These people have masterminded all kinds of things. My house in the village was burnt. I get telephone threats everyday. I used to absolve them in the past, but now, I am going to prosecute all those that have been fingered in some of these things, because this is not in our character.

Tell me why Ekweremadu, in whose home the strategy for Nnamdi Kanu’s release was conceived, should be dealt with the way they did?

The former governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji was the one it fell upon to get Nnamdi out on bail, but he was also on bail from a trump-up charge by EFCC, and you cannot take somebody on bail when you are also on bail. So, Ekweremadu suggested to Abaribe to bail him, and the latter agreed. All of them supported Abaribe. The former Minister of Aviation, Chidoka, volunteered his land as part of surety. Neither Abaribe nor any of those that ensured Kanu’s release has been contacted by IPOB since their leader jumped bail. And we have been pleading with the Federal Government to forgo the charge, but what do we get in return?

There is no Igbo man that has attacked the Buhari government more than I have. I am not trained to be insolent. I only attack Buhari’s policies and not his person. They call Nigeria a zoo; they call people all kinds of names. But that is not the issue. Our point is that we are being marginalised in our country. We are being treated like second-class citizens. The system we are operating is repressive, and it looks like there is an arrangement to hold the Igbo down after the civil war, because all our savings were reduced to 20 pounds.

We were only given five states, while others have a minimum of six. We were given 95 local governments, while others have over 100. When we were given quit notice in the North, I took a census. I found out that there were over 11.6 million Igbos in northern Nigeria. In the last election, there were over 3.6 million registered voters in Lagos State alone. We also found out that there were one million Igbos living in Ghana. There is more Igbos living outside Igboland and clearly, our population is sizeable.

Now, Fulanis are invading Nigeria, crossing our borders, and registering as Nigerians in our national identity card scheme and overthrowing our immigration and international laws. This is bunkum and I say it every day. Do they want me to take up arms and fight the Federal Government? No generation survives a war twice.

What is your take on insinuations that Enugu International airport was deliberately closed to keep Southeast’s economy down?

The current government has shown that it has bias against the Southeast and is concentrating every development in the North. We have things in the Southeast that could be used to boost our economy, if the Federal Government is interested. Government knew that the airport was going down, that the runway was not good, but refused to maintain it until it became hazardous. You now closed it for safety reasons and said you would repair it before the end of December and suddenly you realised you had no money to do it.

But you know that movement of goods and services in the region where the airport is situated, is one of the things that can catalyse the region’s economy. Interestingly, in less than six months, we built an international airport at Kaduna, used by no airline.

How independent is the judiciary and INEC under this government?

This is the only country where politicians who belong to different political parties appoint electoral body exclusively. The President was elected on a party platform. The National Assembly members are elected on a party platform, and in this instance, both the President and majority of the National Assembly members come from one party. So, the members of the electoral commission are chosen by one party and given to the National Assembly, which rubber stamps it.

This is the only country in the world where after an election, you spend over 180 days in court disputing who won the election.

Tell me any other country in the world where election petitions have lasted for six months after an election; where people who have spent six months in office were removed by the court because they were not properly elected. The same applies to the judiciary.

The governors appoint judges in the state, while the President appoints the judges at the federal courts, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. This is not right. In the previous regional arrangement, the bar association nominated these people. And our revenue system does not allow consolidated fund for the judiciary. So, if a member of the judiciary wants to buy a car, he/she goes to the governor, they want an office, they go to a governor. If they want police, they go to the Inspector General of Police.

In other places, the court has its own police, so that when there is to be enforcement of judgment, the court police go to undertake it. They take orders from the Chief Judge. The judiciary has minimal contact with the executive and legislature, but that is not the case here and nobody wants to address it.