Former President of Igbo think-tank group, Aka Ikenga, and a delegate to the last National Conference, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, has pointed out that the Southeast zone has no place in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview, he also said that the government has failed woefully, describing those canvassing support for Buhari’s re-election in the Southeast on the grounds that it would pave way for Igbo presidency in 2023 as sycophants.
What is your take on the state of the nation, especially against the backdrop of the 58th Independence anniversary?
Nigeria got independence 58 years ago on a platter of gold because a wise man called Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe waged the battle without weapons. Today, we have so derailed from the road we embarked on in 1960 that we don’t even know where we are. I think we are lost in the desert so to speak. On October 1, 1960, there was a lot of hope and expectations. In fact, it was thought that, that was the beginning of our own Eldorado. But what do we have today? We have 36 states on an unequal yoke. Today’s Nigeria is a disappointment. We can talk of history for the purpose of learning from the past. But if we talk of the present in order to move forward, the buck must stop at the table of Mr President. The name of the president does not matter. It is he who is there that must bear the burden. Today oil is heading towards $90 per barrel while the 2018 budget benchmark is $50. In other words, for some months we have been having huge excess crude account and what is it we are doing with it. Nobody knows; rather we are busy borrowing. We have money, but we are borrowing. Do you know how much this government has borrowed in nearly three and half years? Till today, I have been asking myself where this huge debt profile was used. I can’t say. The last time the Federal Government sent an executive bill seeking approval to borrow money, they listed projects in five zones and the projects will be financed with the borrowed money, which will be repaid by six zones. The zone that was excluded is the Southeast and till today, Mr President has told us nothing. And those sycophants in the Southeast are busy singing, ‘o yes, he is good to us’. Yet before their very eyes, the Southeast was excluded pointedly with no apologies. So, if you are asking me where this country is going, I think we are going in the wrong direction. We are moving at full speed in the wrong direction for reasons that I cannot understand.
The derailment you talked about didn’t just start today. Previous administrations contributed to that and the present administration says it is working hard to rebuild the country?
Let’s get the facts straight. From October 1, 1960, many things had been wrong. But you look at what will enable you go forward. So, other governments before today’s government were part of history. No matter what you talk about former presidents Jonathan, Yar’Adua, Obasanjo, Abdulsalami and others down the line, not one of them will influence today’s policies, not one of them will influence tomorrow’s policies. It is the government of today that determines how we are moving forward. So, I will blame the president of today for the direction we are going. Let me also say without fear of contradiction that there is nobody who has been better prepared for presidency than President Muhammadu Buhari. He had been there as a military head of state between 1983 and 1985. So, he knows what it means to be president. He started preparing for this presidency in 2002 when he declared his intention to contest. And he contested consistently until he won in 2015. In other words, there is nothing you are saying now that he has not seen. When he took over he said he was going to go on a full throttle. But the bureaucracy I am seeing is not good because nobody is talking of solutions. If you listened to the Independence Day broadcast of Mr President, he said that everything was going fine; that Nigerians were better economically; that security has improved and that corruption has been fought to a standstill. That was his impression. And I wonder whether he was describing this country or another country. So, the blame must be on whoever is on the seat; when he leaves, we will also blame whoever is there, who knowingly inherited a problem and has no solutions. Nobody judges you by intention; we judge you by your activities.
What is the president not getting right in your view?
He said he had three main objectives in coming to power. The first one is improving the economy; the second is fighting corruption; the third is security. If you look at the economy, with the N18,000 minimum wage which was instituted by the government before him, one could then say, ‘let me buy a bag of rice, give my wife N5,000 to hold and then keep the remaining for my transport’. But today, with the N18,000 minimum wage, you cannot do that. It can’t even buy a bag of rice. If you go to garri, it is sold at N500 for what the traders call ‘paint’. The same quantity is sold at N1,300 today. Are we doing better economically? Now, ask yourself the number of people you know that have been buying cars. Go and ask those who sell cars the patronage level. And if those who were using cars are now going by Okada, what does that say? Instead of people upgrading from Okada to cars it is the other way round. I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that Nigerian workers supported President Buhari when he was coming in. The minimum wage ought to have been increased. We are almost at the end of his four-year term. If he is going to increase it, it will be in the 2019 budget, but it is definitely not in the 2018 budget. As I am speaking to you now, nothing is going on. On the issue of security, we were contending with only Boko Haram in the past. The Niger Delta had been contained and the herdsmen were not dreaded anymore. In fact, they were the ones pleading to be allowed to pass, but it’s not so anymore. Boko Haram is extremely active, kidnapping girls at will. If I remember, when the Chibok girls issue arose, some people went to former President Jonathan and said, ‘let us look for money and give them’. But Jonathan asked them what was the guarantee that they would not come back for more. Nobody could answer it; and, of course, they came back. They went to Yobe State and abducted schoolgirls; some were released; they said some died. What of the Chibok girls’ abduction, which was a star issue in the last election? We still have many people there and nobody is talking. What about herdsmen that are killers? The Federal Government has come out to say that the killers are criminals and not herdsmen, that we shouldn’t call them Fulani herdsmen, but just criminals. Mr President did not make reference to them in his speech at the recent United Nations meeting. He didn’t talk about murderous herdsmen at all. Meanwhile, he talked of other problems in the world. Corruption is the last one. Now, a lot of noise has been made about Rev Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye who have been jailed. Jonathan’s government instituted those cases. What delayed it was that the two of them appealed on an interlocutory motion up to the Supreme Court. As Jonathan was leaving, the Supreme Court gave a ruling that they should go back and defend themselves. As Jonathan was leaving office, he gave what I will call a very good gift to the judiciary known as Criminal Justice Act. It is this Criminal Justice Act that is enabling judges to go ahead with a trial even if they have an appeal. So, if this government is to be judged by what they said they would be doing in the world of corruption, I can tell you nothing is going on. They bungled what would have been the star trial for them. What did it do? It mentioned Diezani Allison-Madueke as doing this and that in a court case. Diezani filed an application asking that she should be joined in the case so she can come and defend herself. But the Federal Government opposed the application before two courts. The court then said, ‘well, the prosecutor said he does not want that’. The position of the prosecutor was that she should be tried in England. But is Diezani under trial in England, the U.S. or any part of the world. She is not! So, the three things he said we should judge him with, I cannot see any solution he has brought to bear on those problems. The government of the day is more interested in propaganda and blame game than in governance. So, the government failed and failed woefully in those three areas.
What is your take on the clamour by some Igbo elite that the Southeast should support the President Buhari’s re-election bid in order to pave way for Igbo presidency in 2023?
I call those people sycophants. I can also call them people who are dwelling in the moon; when they get to the ground they face reality. The reality today is that those who have been speaking are not the ones who speak for the All Progressives Congress (APC). APC has a national chairman; the party produced the president. These are the people we should look up to, to hear what they say. Even Mr President cannot tell you that. APC said they don’t believe in zoning; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) believes in zoning. Now, what is going on in APC? It took a little leakage by the Senate President to show that the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is eyeing the presidency in 2023. But all these time, the impression given by all those sycophants who pointed their father’s compound with a left hand was that it was agreed. I don’t listen to them. Let me put it this way. Igboland has no place in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and has no place in APC. None of those who are bandying these words will ever show face in Buhari’s kitchen cabinet. None of them is in the decision making group in the APC. Let me give you a small angle. The brain behind the merger that brought APC is Dr Ogbonnaya Onu. But when they were to take some key decisions, he was not even invited. So, APC as a party is just Northwest and Southwest; every other person is a joiner. That was why they complained and grumbled when people from the Northeast seemed to be having a good say. So, Igboland has no place in this government and there is no plan to bring us in, in 2023. The struggle for power by all those people using the name of Buhari is nothing but selfish agenda. Let me put it bluntly. They are saying, ‘vote for me because I will make Buhari to give you something in 2023.’ When Buhari came into power, he made 40 appointments before appointing one Igboman in Ibe Kachikwu. I remember myself, Tunji Braithwaite of blessed memory, and Chief Ayo Adebanjo condemning it on Channels Television. Tunji Braithwaite was so angry that he said, ‘look, they are saying you don’t have anybody, but Ogbonnaya Onu brought everybody together. This is a zone that has been grossly marginalised.’ I quoted the old man; he has gone. So, in this country today, we are doing siddon look in APC; but our destiny is in our hands. If you know an Igboman very well, he believes he can do it for himself. All he is saying is give me a level playing ground.
So, what advice do you have for your kinsmen as the politics of the 2019 general election gears up?
Ndigbo should believe in themselves. They should vote for quality human beings and not expect anything from the Federal Government so that they will not be disappointed. And what does the Igbo man want? Give us access road. So, if you are voting for a man or woman, vote for him/her because he/she is worth voting for. When you have people who are visiting, they cannot represent you. A visiting politician is only good in Abuja; he is not good at home. A man of the people must be a man of the people.
Many Nigerians saw the recent Osun State governorship election as a test on the level of preparedness of INEC to conduct free and fair elections in 2019. In what areas do you think the commission should improve?
Prof. Mahmud Yakubu is the chairman of INEC. His name has gone down in the interim, not the name of any other person. The Osun election was so brazenly rigged that nobody, not even APC people believe that they won. All they said is, ‘INEC has announced us’. Time is coming when you will hear, ‘INEC declared us’ not ‘we won’. Osun people have been suffering for eight years. They expressed their views with their PVCs, but there were those who made sure that their views never counted; there were those who made nonsense of ‘carry your PVC and change what you don’t like’. These are the people that are destroying this country. I remember when Senator Ike Ekweremadu was complaining about impunity, saying that they shouldn’t forget that soldiers are always watching. People abused him and accused him of many things. But he was saying the truth. It’s impunity that has just taken place in both Osun and Ekiti states. The impunity is too glaring for even a blind man not to see. Talking about 2019 election, it is difficult to prescribe anything because the umpire sees himself as player number 12. You watch soccer; the game is between 11 players on one side and 11 players on the other side. They have one man as the umpire, the referee. In this case, it is party ‘A’ versus party ‘B’ with chairman of INEC. Instead of being in the middle and being independent, he decided to play with one side. If the referee is the 12th player on one side, what are you going to do? Even if you score he will say you are offside. So, it’s difficult. I’m reluctant, very reluctant to say there is optimism. What happened in Osun is a precursor of what will happen in 2019.