A former presidential aspirant of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, has highlighted what the Igbo should do to produce the nation’s president in 2023. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, Prof Hagher, who had served twice as a minister, two time as an ambassador and also a former senator,  lamented that the Middle Belt is the most oppressed ethnic group in the country. He asked the core North to support the zone to produce the president in 2023.  


What is your view on the state of the nation?

Scary. We have refused to build a great nation, out of our national potential in human and natural resources. Our citizens are still running away to develop other nations, whose citizens and leaders have dared to build strong democracies with stable institutions. We have created a monstrous predatory political class that stands for nothing but personal enrichment, gratification and hubris.

On the other hand the second term of President Buhari regime appears to bring rays of hope. I am beginning to see sensitivity to infrastructural development. The roads are receiving attention. There is a new airport at Abuja that was completed by the Buhari regime. It is functional even though not befitting this country’s greatness. The electricity is still epileptic but again there is certain seriousness in how these challenges are being addressed.

The best thing the government has done is to finally have a new team of Economic Advisers that will guide the president’s hitherto lackluster economic policies. The last four years were horrendous. Everything was falling apart; we must thank God that President Buhari seems to be bubbling in physical health. This is very important. But the success of the Presidency is almost always dependent on the mentality of the president’s men and women, and the strength of the institution of state. The fight against corruption is not yielding desired fruit. The mentality of it-is –our turn to chop is still very strong. At the social level, ethnicity is waxing much stronger than in 1914, when Nigeria was amalgamated. This is an albatross. Tribalism fosters corruption and hampers the rule of law and exacerbates inequality and bad governance.

The insecurity situation – Boko Haram, banditry, herdsmen / farmers clashes, kidnapping, etc. have put the country on edge;  troubled on all fronts, how do we arrest this slide?

Let me again say, I am expectant of hope. Without hope we cannot muster the will to thrive. The drift to anarchy in the last four years was unprecedented. Even though the building of democracy is a messy affair for all nations our situation went to the tipping point. We are still there at the edge of the cliff. Perilously hanging between surviving and beckoning disaster. A country that does not secure the lives of its citizens and their properties is a “basket case” This is where we are today. The inability to build patriotism has fed forces that pull us apart. The absence of strong institutions to enforce criminal justice and the rule of law is a major contribution to near anarchy we have across the country. Bandits, kidnappers and other criminals operate with impunity nation wide; including Katsina State where the president comes from.

The recent UN Report on Nigeria by the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard is largely true. Her description of Nigeria being a pressure cooker of violence was especially true between 2015 and 2018. But the evidence at the moment is of a government that has removed the pressure cooker from flaming fire. Government is tackling insecurity with a firm resolve to thwart the emergent legacy of insecurity. I am optimistic here again.

I personally commend and salute the gallant men and women of the armed forces who are fighting Islamic fundamentalism and banditry. These Christian and Muslim youth are sacrificing their lives so that our country will survive as a religiously and ethnically diverse multi-cultural society. There is no other way. Our youth are doing incredible things to respect our flag and our unity. They are fighting and dying so that we can have a better future.

I must commend one Major General Yekini of the Operation Whirlstroke of the Nigerian Army combating banditry and terrorism in Central Nigeria. I have never seen “operationally” a more methodical, courageous and result-oriented commander, who is combatting asymmetric warfare and banditry with a quiet resolve, intelligence and tactical efficiency. On the other hand, some criminal elements in the armed forces have continued to collude, hide and enable kidnappers, armed robbers and warlords. But I have hope for the victory of sanity over compulsive evil and bad behavior. I pray that this period of insanity will pass away and that Nigeria will not dissolve before then.

Some statesmen have the view that Nigeria is no more workable, it should be broken, and every part should go and enjoy its peace. They say a section of the country has made itself the rider, while others are the horse. What is your position?

That Nigeria is not working is largely true. That it is no more workable is contestable. That it should be broken and every part should go and enjoy its peace is a faulty narrative. I do not subscribe to the break up of Nigeria to tiny ineffective nations, because our size, our economy and our diversity is our strength. As a former presidential aspirant and one who is blessed to see the working of Nigeria as a senator, twice minister and twice ambassador and a tenured retired professor, it will be irresponsible of me to advocate for the dissolution of Nigeria.

Nigeria may be in comatose condition now, but it will arise again. The forces of retrogression are holding sway, but they are being challenged by new strident voices of real dynamic changes; and voices of hope and revolutionary dynamism.

There is a critical challenge for our situational leaders to aggregate our collective pains and lead us sensibly and responsibly to be a society of equality and justice for all. Leadership is in short supply everywhere. Nigeria citizens everywhere; including that section you claim is “riding the rest of us” are hurting from bad and toxic leaders, who are selfish greedy and ignorant.

We the people “demand to be treated with respect, dignity, decency and understanding by the people whose expenses are being paid by the public treasury. President Buhari’s performance in the last four years was mediocre and I sympathised with him. His team was mediocre and even now in some respect it needs to re-jig.

The institutions of state must rise above partisanships. Of all these institutions, the Judiciary must be above board. We need strong men and women on the High courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, who are ruled by strong conscience and a patriotic interpretation of the laws and the Nigerian constitutions. Judges are human beings too, and while many are swayed by ethnic, religious, individual needs and emotions, we expect the majority to stand for Nigeria. We need these leaders of integrity and conscience to emerge from the judiciary to be leaders of change.

Bifurcation break-up dissolution and all forms of atomisation will bring out more problems. The leadership challenge will be amplified in the smaller units. There will be no peace unless it is the peace of the graveyards. Nigerian leaders must grow and mature from primeval instincts where men continue to harbor; deep selfish desires, drive to take what can be taken, magnify our selves and appear to be superior to others and to exercise power over others to satisfy our lusts. We need education; we need a new curriculum from crèche to the tertiary levels of education to produce the new Nigerian citizen. The task is necessary and urgent.

The defining moment for us is the need to make meaningful change to impact our lives to make the nation greater and to build a new country. Crying and asking for a break up when we are faced with challenges is selfish and escapist. Let us the leaders deeply think solutions and apply deep thinking to transcend past difficulties and selfish future desires to be the mini gods in newly created banana republic fiefdoms.

The Coalition of Northern Groups says Middle Belt should remain in the North no matter its grievances, but some Middle Belt leaders are challenging that. What is the position of Middle Belt, and why are they showing fatigue to the North?

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The Middle-Belt is the most painful of all the nation’s challenges. This Belt comprising all non-Hausa and non-Fulani minorities of the North is among the most oppressed of the Nation’s ethnicities.

The Middle-Belt alone is home to over two hundred ethnic groups that have over hundred of years seen nothing but war. This belt is the great hewer of wood and drawer of water of the country. These hospitable tribes had welcomed others but everything has been taken away from them. Right now, the middle-belt is the centre where land resource wars are raging. For three hundred years that slave trade thrived, they were raided for slaves, then the Sokoto Caliphate decimated them then and enslaved them. They are still the abode of war.

Many of the tribes in order to survive escaped to mountains and inhospitable environments where there are no roads no schools, no hospitals, and no government. They live now as animals live with nothing and survive on nature. The Middle-Belters, millions speak Hausa but are not Hausa. Many are Muslims and Christians having lost their traditional religions. They are united by misery, deprivation and a helpless surrender to apathy.

I frankly do not know of the Northern leaders you allude to who can collectively assuage the pains of the Middle-Belt and to the poor northern groups, who are still held as slaves and subjects and are still grapping with identity and citizenship question in our Republic.

The Middle-Belt cannot be forced to remain in the North if the North is embarrassed by the diversity that the Middle belt brings to make the north a hegemonic power block.

The people of the Middle-Belt are still looking towards authentic voices and authentic leaders, who will instill consciousness among its people. The present crop of leaders cannot improve the conditions of the people they claim to be leading because they have remained anchored in the past.

These so called leaders of the Middle-Belt are controlled by a leadership that is unconscious of its responsibility and have lost touch with the Middle-Belt reality and remain merely self-admiring braggers. This is why I see the Middle-Belt question as the central issue of our time. Justice is required for the people of the Middle-Belt whose people are treated as non-people on the line of being dis possessed, disinherited and obliterated. This is where urgent attention of the world is needed.

Some argue that unless Nigeria is restructured, it can’t move forward, what is your take on this?

I accept totally! We need a new structure, especially in our constitution; where the states should have more power than the Federal Government. We need deep thinking on presidentialism, federating units and the laws that govern immunity of public officers from prosecution.

There are many definitions of re-structuring and in my own sense of the term every serious government engages in the process of re-structuring either in a retrogressive manner or in a progressive manner.

Just see and be overwhelmed with the fact that the Buhari administration is heavily engaged in a be-all-and all agenda of re-distributing agricultural land and providing prominence to the survival of cows above other national concerns. This is restructuring no less!

Where should the presidency go in 2023? Some argue that it remains in the North, while some make the case for the South, especially, the Southeast.

I don’t know where the presidency will eventually go. But I know where it shouldn’t go. It should not go to the Northwest again. They have had more than their fair share of democratic presidents. Having said that, I believe as a former presidential aspirant that, Nigeria will be shocked in 2023. There is an unfortunate leadership recruitment process that is so unequal and so unpatriotic.

The Nigerian citizens have no say in who becomes their president. They are too poor to make informed choices, and too poorly organised to fund their candidates. The entire recruitment process is rigged in favour of the ex-military-business and corrupt politician complex; that holds sway. But 2023 is nearby. It will make or mar Nigeria. The bell is tolling away.  I can’t speak for the South East.  They deserve to be President of Nigeria and should be president when they are prepared to negotiate with others.

When they are ready to organise their leaders to act with dignity and not with mercenary spirit. When they can rein in their hubris and discipline their youth, then, they can negotiate with other power centers. But when you look at things at the moment, the country is run by the Northwest, and Northeast to the exclusion of the North Central Nigerian Middle-Belters.

The people of South-East are exceptional, but they have brought unspeakable pain to the rest of Nigeria. They are the image of Nigeria the world sees and it is a bad image. The Igbo problem is not so simplistic as to be solved by fiat by the desire for a Nigerian president of Igbo descent. It is a serious problem of a socially unhinged society that needs to be reconstructed and re-humanised. The Igbo intellectuals who are silent on issues affecting the relegation of the Igbo globally are a problem. They are the enforcers of status quo.

When they talk about the presidency being retained in the North, the emphasis is the Northwest or Northeast, what is the place of Middle Belt in all these?

If we plumb the past and the present; the Northwest and Northeast have enjoyed political and economic power of this nation more than the Middle-Belt. The Middle Belt is disunited and lack leaders who can bring peace and unite the people as a political power block. Their leaders are easily divided. The people are poor and weak and oppressed. They need to be united and make a just demand. In the 1960s, there arose a young Middle-Belter who united the Middle-Belt as a political force. He was Hon. J. S Tarka; he could bring a Borno Middle Belter to win a seat in Gboko the heart of Tivland. Our new generation of Middle-Belt leaders needs to persuade the so called, “ Core North” to support a Middle-Belt candidacy that is informed, broadminded and respected. It is my belief that it is another Middle-Belt minority Nigerian President that can move Nigeria forward like General Gowon did in the 1970’s.

Will you run for president in 2023? If yes what are your chances?

No! The country is not ready for one like me. It is not yet the time. I will not run, but I will campaign for an emergent leader whose vision will lift Nigeria to greatness. I am seventy years now and I will devote the rest of my life to help build this nation to greatness, as thinker, writer, and public intellectual.