From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
As the country grapples with economic and political challenges, Dr. Sam Nkire, a former National Chairman of Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) and a Board of Trustees (BoT) member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) shared his thoughts on some happenings in the polity. He argued that the Briafra agitation was borne out of joblessness. He nonetheless implored the people of the South -East to join hands with the APC to achieve its presidential ambition which he said could only be feasible in 2023.
Looking at where we were and where we are, how would you rate the country in terms of economic and political developments?
Frankly, when we were growing up, considering my birth in the early fifties, we saw a Nigeria, even though we didn’t have the enormous man power and infrastructure, which was peaceful. And we had less corruption and nepotism. We had nothing like armed robbery and kidnapping. People earned wages that could help them live meaningful lives. Even if you earned £10, you could train your children. Things have changed. I won’t align myself with people who think that the Kaduna Nzeogu coup which gave birth to the series of military coups that we have had is to blame because when the military came, of course they used command. They gave orders. People hardly had opinions. From one military government to another, they selected whoever they liked. The representatives of the people could not tell them what to do, but today we have constituency projects. So when you juxtapose these two situations, you will see that we were better than now. If you try to compare the amount of money we make from our oil and what it was then, you will see that it does not follow in terms of development.
Some people have argued that Nigerians should not continue to blame the military since things have continued to degenerate despite 18 years of uninterrupted civilian rule. Are you in agreement with that?
Don’t forget that we had over 30 years of military rule and it impacted on the mentality of the people. Even the people who took over as democrats who are politicians were already spoilt by what they learnt from the military. You see, most of them are in civilian clothes, but their mentality is that of the military. Examples are Obasanjo and our current president. I hinge my blame on the military.
We have a situation where your party, the APC made promises to salvage the poor state of things but two years down the line, things are rather getting worse. What is wrong?
Nigerians got us wrong. The APC promised to right the wrongs but didn’t say it would wave the magic wand. If you want to be objective, you will see that the hardship is something that must happen before things become better. The hardship we are facing now, even if the PDP had continued, it would have been worst. But then you can see that the hardship is bringing out the best in Nigerians. Most people who are starting little businesses are stepping out confidently to do their own things. And you will agree with me that the APC administration is making a lot of sacrifice. There is no wastage in this government. You cannot tell me that the ministers are corrupt like the out-gone ministers. There is a female minister whom I heard frittered billions of dollars, not naira. I cannot see a female minister in APC doing that. Babatunde Fashola has the biggest ministry. I don’t search hearts. But I know that Buhari will not give you that kind of opportunity to steal. So with time, all the savings will be ploughed back into the system.
When, because the frugality is not improving the economy?
We have four-year tenure. And the president has always said what he found was more decadent than what he thought. And he has plunged into it. I think that Nigerians should give him time.
How has the health of the president impacted on what APC planned to do?
Time is not out yet. What we wanted to do was framed around first tenure of four years. Unfortunately, our president took ill. He is not in town. But you will agree with me that the acting president and other appointees are doing their best. Things are moving up. I agree with you that things are not moving on as most Nigerians had expected. We still have two years ahead. Nigerians should have faith.
In the last two years, APC has struggled to remain a party, amidst in-fighting. Is the situation surprising to you?
Some Nigerians and the opposition especially think that the politicians in APC are angels who are infallible. Again, most people also dwell on wishful thinking. APC, been made up of human beings, is bound to have hiccups. The party is made up of four political parties. We are not unmindful of that. But when the polity becomes hot we have a way of cushioning it. Mind you, we have a great leader, that is President Buhari and Nigerians still believe that the party will not fail. Mind you, a government in power attracts criticisms. It is like nectar, where you have honey. Bees will continue to perch and hover around. PDP or any other party will work hard to discredit this government. Most of the allegations are rumours. So you will find out that the disintegration people are wishing is not working. Two years down the line APC is still strong. I know that the two years of Buhari administration is better than Jonathan government.
What is your view on the agitation for Biafra Republic?
I remember I promised a back page article on my thoughts of Biafra. Biafra, yes it is in the mind of most South -East people. It couldn’t be wished away. So many people lost their loved ones. I lost an elder brother and a nephew. I was in the Red Cross during the war. And by 1969 I joined the army because the harassment was too much. But it didn’t take long before the war ended. The distances I walked were unimaginable. You could not believe that a man would make 50 kilometers through the bush track. I saw kwashiorkor, malnutrition and even untimely death. By the time Ojukwu came in 1983 I was already a senior journalist and I heard Ojukwu said that Biafra was dead and buried and the Igbo should get into the polity and slog it out with the rest of Nigerians. In fact, Ojukwu ran for Senate and for the position of the president before he died, though he was defeated.
He believed in one Nigeria. To sum it up, his wife, Bianca represented Nigeria as an ambassador to Spain. Is that the man who believed in Biafra? He led us to war and reconciled us with Nigeria. There is marginalization which I know, like the issues of roads and basic infrastructure. But I believe that we politicians, like Azikiwe and Okpara, who went into alliances, found a way of becoming key players in Nigeria because South -East doesn’t have the population to give themselves presidency. They must lobby, corporate and find an arrangement where it would be rotated so they could take their turn for the position of the president.
I believe that the only way to avoid marginalization is to get into the polity and make an Igbo president who, I believe should fix basic infrastructure in the South- East. I believe that after Buhari’s tenure, an Igbo man should be president. 2023 is not far away. APC is the surest platform that can help the Igbo to produce the next president. Majority of the Igbo are not for Biafra. The agitators are youths who do not want to listen to people or because of joblessness. It could also be as a result of the biting of the economy which is affecting every tribe and religion. Power is not given. It is taken. I see the hands of the devil in this agitation. It is 50 years since the Igbo went into war. Igbo are rich and enterprising. The land area we have in the South- East is not enough for us and we cannot go making trouble with the people we live with. If we all go back to the East, the economy is less than one third of what Igbo have.
You are talking about unity and APC being the surest way the ambition of the South -East could be achieved. But the party is alienating the same zone in terms of appointments, how do you reconcile that?
Politics is give and take. Even in the US, we have seen how Donald Trump is satisfying people who voted for him. What am I saying? Although there is nothing wrong in wooing the region that didn’t vote for him. But then, it depends on the character and personality of the president. He cannot leave the people who voted for him and take care of the people who didn’t. So the president has the result sheets and he wants to satisfy the people who voted for him first. It is not a bad thing. I can’t tell you I won’t do the same. So Nigerians should have patience. If you look at the constitution concerning ministerial appointments, it gives an opportunity for every state to produce a minister. And any president who flaws the constitution could be impeached. Also you could see that some appointments have not been made. So I don’t see any reason Biafran agitators would want to commit suicide and hold the country to ransom. Everybody should exercise patience.
With this attitude of the president favouring those who voted for him and abandoning those who didn’t, do you see the APC been entrenched in the South -East before 2019?
The president is a politician. And a politician should understand the ropes of politics. If the president comes back now and faces the South- East zone in terms of development, it won’t take more than three months to change their mindset. He should know what to do to win the peoples’ mind. I believe he is going to do that.
Most Nigerians are decrying the rejection of power devolution by both chambers of the National Assembly. What do you make of the constitutional amendment process?
I want to wait to see the outcome of the marriage of the Senate and House of Representatives on the matter. When that happens and it doesn’t meet the expectations of Nigerians, then they can protest. Protest is gaining momentum. What most Nigerians are expecting can’t happen in just four years. If you go to the 36 state Houses of Assembly, the representatives are doing worst things than what is happening at the National Assembly. Those guys at the state Houses of Assembly are at the beck and call of their respective governors. No governor wants power devolution. The National Assembly is more independent than the state Houses of Assembly. If the National Assembly couldn’t bring about devolution of power, how then do you expect the state Houses of Assembly to do that? I congratulate the senate for starting the process.