From Magnus Eze, Enugu

Chief promoter of South East Leadership and Development Initiative (SELDI), Ikenna Modebelu, spoke to newsmen in Enugu on the post-2023 general elections, economy, crisis in Ohanaeze Ndigbo, among others. He said the outcome of the polls has made Nigeria directionless.

What is your honest assessment of the Buhari government as it ends on May 29?

Buhari has played his part and is on his way out. When the regime came in 2015, they promised three major planks – they said they would tackle insecurity in six months; there will be one dollar to a naira and they will bring corruption to the lowest level.  Today, however, the scorecard is available for all to see. On the issue of security, what used to be in the Northeast when Jonathan was there has metamorphosed to every part of the country. They now hijack trains and if care is not taken, they may be shooting planes down very soon. Remember the last time the president wanted to go to Katsina from Abuja, it was rumoured that they had to go and settle because the terrorists seized vital equipment. When some leaders said that we are in a failed state, it does not mean that people will not be moving around but it means that traveling from point A to B is becoming difficult. When we were younger, we can take off from Enugu even in the night by road to Lagos and you can choose to drive yourself. So, the issue of insecurity is totally a failure on the part of this administration. In economy, we have become the poverty capital of the world. In all the human development indices, Nigeria is at the lowest of them – Misery Index, Child Mortality rate, economy is on its knees. A bag of rice was N8000 but today over N45,000.  Cost of services and food items are on the high side. Corruption has quadrupled. Inflation is on the high side. Certain grants from foreign donors coming into Africa no longer come into Nigeria due to corruption. Most people don’t know the level of nepotism the Buhari administration institutionalized in this country and this is the worst form of corruption. Because of nepotism, the first 10,000 civil service jobs are held by one segment of the country and their cohorts. So, Buhari has not done any good to the nation by instituting nepotism in the polity. Recently as much as 12 billion dollars was used to purchase few fire trucks for the airport.

Why do you think the nation’s economy appears to be on standstill after the general elections?

There are several issues that in my own estimation are responsible for the current economic upheavals in the country. This will include the general feeling of disenfranchisement in the political process of 2023; the outcome of the elections which many believe went against the run of play following the level of mutilation in the electoral papers we have seen; interviews of INEC’s participants in the elections who went as far as saying they were held at gunpoint in the elections to declare the results they declared, which fell short of the estimation of most Nigerians. The announcement of the outcome of the presidential election did not generate the level of acceptance it ought to have generated. There was no jubilation, an indication that people are not happy. The incidence of voter suppression, voter intimidation in most places despite the assurances by INEC that it was ready to conduct one of the freest and fairest elections among others made the people return to their shell since the election results were announced. Everyone appears to be waiting for the outcome of the court on the petitions over the presidential election to give the country a direction again. That is why the court should be careful in looking at the petitions so as to provide the leeway for the country once again. Some of the altercations that followed the 2023 presidential election have really created tension and we think that the court needs to do the needful. The economy is not spared as it cannot blossom because of the outcome of the election.

People are saying that there is so much power in the hands of INEC Chairman, that the body should be restructured so that one man doesn’t just determine winner of presidential election. What’s your view?

I agree totally about institutional revamping in Nigeria which must stem from constitutional amendment or changing constitutional provisions because there is absolutely too much power being exercised by certain individuals in certain institutions. There are too many powers whether it is in the INEC chairman, presidency or any other head of government agency. There is need to whittle down the powers being exercised in some institutions to make our democracy work well. You can see the jostling in the Senate on who will be the senate president and at the moment, the way it is going, it is like the president has the sole responsibility to appoint who should be there.  That is dangerous. When that is done, you can begin to imagine the kind of legislation that could come from the senate. Now the INEC chairman announced the outcome of the last presidential election not minding the criticisms surrounding it. If there was a kind of Electoral College that probably had sat for one or two days after the election to deliberate on the outcome, I believe that they would have come up with a recommendation that would have been more acceptable to the people than what the INEC chairman solely did. The rush with which he announced the result and gave out certificate of return when there were issues concerning the process made people believe that he was compromised.

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The common mantra of “go to court,” coming after the 2023 elections raises suspicion on whether the judiciary is still the hope of the common person. What’s your reaction?

It is a new mantra in the political lexicon of Nigeria. As far as Nigerians are concerned, “go to court” is the beginning and end of impunity. What it means is that some Nigerians are no longer afraid of court proceedings and pronouncements and when they tell you to “go to court,” it means that the court is also in their pockets. Otherwise, why should somebody commit a fraud and tell you to go to court? You cannot do such in England or established climes. You cannot threaten somebody and say if you don’t like it, go to court.  What it means is that the judiciary is compromised and there are precedents to that when you take into account that the judiciary at some point produced a governor known today as “Supreme Court Governor.” A person who came fourth in the election later became number one. So, the mantra “go to court” is a mockery on the judiciary. It shows the level which that important arm of the nation has been reduced. It is an aggregate vote of no confidence on the Nigerian judiciary and I must warn that the judiciary should begin to redeem its image with the electoral cases before them. The judiciary must rise to re-establish the confidence Nigerians have in them like in the days of Justice Oputa and other icons when the country was exchanging judges with other countries. So, it is a golden opportunity for the judiciary to redeem its image because Nigerians believe that the elections, especially that of the presidency was rigged.

What could be the implication of this kind of development- “go to court” in the near future?

Truth is that there is no future in that kind of development. It means we are headed for a lawless country where institutions of justice dance to the tune of the money bags. It will lead to anarchy and deepen the level of impunity in the system. Look at the way the issue of Nigerians returning from the war-ravaged Sudan was handled even when 1.2 million dollars was voted for the transaction. Certain things need to change for the country to move forward. It will be dangerous if we continue to gloss over issues threatening to divide us as a people while trying to satisfy the yearnings of a few.

How do you react to controversy trailing the emergence of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu as new President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?

There is always controversy in every leadership emergence at Ohanaeze Ndigbo. So, the controversy over Chief Iwuanyanwu transmuting from being the chairman of elders’ forum to President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is not new. What I can tell you is that his emergence is positive and with time, it will impact on the Igbo. This is because Iwuanyanwu is a recognized figure in Nigeria. He has played his part both in the private and public sectors. He has Igbo interest at heart, he is fearless, and he is non-tribal. He understands the matrix of the constitution of the people of Nigeria and l believe that he will do well. He has played in various sectors – in the media, aviation, construction, insurance, sports and politics. He has played his part and with this position and his experience, I believe he will make a mark in the uplift of the Igbo which he has been talking about. He is aggregately a very good choice at this stage.

Igbo have always had division over Ohanaeze Ndigbo? What should be your advice to Iwuanyanwu on this?

I believe he has a huge assignment in his hands and this includes ensuring very strong Ohanaeze Ndigbo that should be the voice of the Igbo people. Ohanaeze seemed to have been dwarfed by controversies that had often resulted in parallel leaderships. I think he should begin by reaching out to the various socio-cultural groups to try to bring them together in order to suppress other voices and make Ohanaeze the paramount voice for Ndigbo. He should also play a national politics of inclusion which will help for further integration of Igbo in national affairs. Once he can get the voices to come under the umbrella of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, then he has succeeded. He should spend time to continue to insist that Ohanaeze Ndigbo is the apex body for Igbo affairs.