Prof Anya Oko Anya is an academic and administrator. He is a household name in Nigeria, having served in various federal government committees on how to position the nation on the path of greatness. He was the pioneer Director General of Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), which set the economic framework for the country.
In this interview conducted by VINCENT KALU, the chartered Biologist, said contrary to President Muhammadu Buhari’s promises, he doesn’t have the power to make an Igbo man president of Nigeria. He also gave reasons why Ndigbo is filing behind the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 race.
Your tenure as the Igbo leader in Lagos has come to end, what has been your experience leading the people?
In an early interview I gave you, I said it was after my membership of the Presidential Panel on Post Election Violence, which toured different parts of the country that it became clear to me that the Igbo either don’t understand Nigeria or the perception of Nigeria is far from what the true situation is.
I thought it would be good to give them a leadership that would expose them to other Nigerians and lead them to understand that even when you shout president of Igbo extraction, it is not Igbo that will get that president; it is other Nigerians that will give the Igbo that president.
It became clear that we needed to expand both the vision and perspective of Ndigbo to go with their cosmopolitan nature because they are the ones who are all over the country, and yet they do not open to see all the things they ought to see in their various communities.
Whether we succeeded or not, it is the people who can say, but certainly, if the response, for example, all the states unions giving me send off receptions, etc, and the Ohanaeze people are also coming to my place today, then we succeeded.
There is an element of satisfaction, and there has been some appreciation of what we tried to do. There is also a widening of perspective, and that is important because Nigeria is entering into a very dangerous phase in which there will be an increase of uncertainty between this year and next year, and perhaps, soon after that.
It’s also opportunity for Igbo to restate their commitments to this nation, which really the Igbo built without equivocation. Everybody was satisfied with the colonial masters lording it over them till Azikiwe came. One of the instruments Azikiwe used in mobilising Nigerians was state unions, starting from Igbo State Union and the various other ethnic organisations. People forget that those ethnic organisations were members of the NCNC at formation. So, it is a different kind of perspective and that is what the Igbo forgot, but I think they are getting back the sense of who they are.
It is said that Igbo are hard to lead, is that assertion true from your experience?
It is not true. In fact, Igbo are the easiest to lead if you understand them. There are seven values that determine who the Igbo select as leaders, and when they do that, they commit to loyalty.
First is that Igbo expect Ntuezu, in other words, you grow into leadership, you don’t just happen into it. They also believe in Njepu, that is, the one who has moved around, and whose vision is broader because he has travelled around. It is also their Ikenga, their affirmation of who you are, and the fact that integrity is the basis of leadership. If you fulfill those conditions, in practical terms, it means that you are accountable, and if Igbo find you accountable, they give you loyalty.
Quarrels over leadership in most Igbo organisations are because of money, and that is where people find it difficult to pursue accountability. Once they give you loyalty, do whatever you want to do within the context of what you told them you would do, they will just say literally, ‘carry go’.
They are the easiest people to deal with, but there are two problems. First, there are some elements in Igbo land, what I call the, ‘Agbawo dike izu’ syndrome, that is, those who think that unless they are consulted, no decision has been taken.
Even the concept of Agbawo dike izu is so self-centred and arrogant that no human being should allow himself to be called, Agbawo dike izu. Where is your God?
When you have such people, of course, Igbo know how to deal with them, but they create problem within the polity. The second thing is of course, arising from the first, somehow, we think that decisions that are binding must be in the marketplace.
No serious society is run as a result of meetings in the marketplace. Yes, the leaders take decisions after widespread consultations, having done that, they now sell it out, that is when you need the market place. Leadership, what is it, if you cannot take decisions and people have confidence that the decisions you are taking is for their good.
This takes us to the recent decision by the Igbo to adopt the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. What led to that?
There were a number of coincidences. When that meeting was planned, the aim was not to endorse Atiku, and as the President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, still insisted in the meeting that this was not a meeting to endorse Atiku, however, Ohanaeze will still meet in January, according to him.
But, the truth of the matter is that more people than expected came to that meeting, and so many people were so pleased with the direction of Peter Obi’s emergence, not because we have not had Igbo people emerging, but Peter in particular and it was Atiku that chose him. For them really, it was like a vote of confidence on persons rather than on party or any other thing.
One thing led to another, and Agbakoba made some propositions and everybody said, ‘yes, yes’. That was it, but the crowd and quality of membership, you can’t ignore it. We were taken by surprise because it wasn’t what was planned. We thought we would just discuss among ourselves and get to the point that where we get direction on which ways we would advise our people, not as a result of that meeting or perhaps after further consultations, but event went just the way it is.
When the message came that Atiku would come, we say why not, that any of the candidates that wants to see us, we are ready. We said if he has taken the initiative let him come.
When he came, he not only gave his commitment on restructuring, which he has been consistent, but even confirmed that he has already got a team of constitutional lawyers looking at the National Conference report to pick out what immediately can be implemented. No commitment can be greater than that in the current situation we have in Nigeria. That swept everybody, and they said what are we waiting for. It was an interesting meeting. There is no point pretending. The current government has a serious problem. It has a problem of credibility. We are talking about restructuring; APC was the only party that put it in its manifesto in 2015, but they were the first to deny it to the point that they had to set up another committee headed by El-Rufai to define what restructuring is.
If you didn’t understand it, why did it appear in your manifesto? All the statistics coming out from the international bodies, whether World Bank, IMF, Transparency International, are giving various indications that things have gone bad in Nigeria, worse than it was before.
But, each time, either Garba Shehu, Adesina or Lai Mohammed is quick to respond, which makes the situation unacceptable because when serious organisations and institutions with serious reputations over the years make an observation, find out the basis of the observations, get people who understand it before you can respond. Of course, the result is that you are trivialising very serious issues, and I have been seeing this all over in recent times, nobody takes them serious any more. Even the good things they have done, they bungle it. A good example is all this talk of Saraki can’t be the Senate President because he is not part of the majority party, but it wasn’t the majority party that made him the Senate President in the first place, they seem to have forgotten. They wanted to remove him, but they didn’t forget the first time he outsmarted them and took proper precautions, and they bungled it the second time. How do you want serious people to take such people seriously?
Through the SGF, Buhari has promised to handover to the Igbo if they support him this time around, why are you trading that off?
He has no capacity to do so. It is Nigerians who will decide who would be their leader, no single individual, particularly a government that is noted for not having performed well, what is the basis for anybody to believe you?
My opinion on whether Igbo will produce the president in 2023 is more important than his because mine will be based on solid facts of what are the possibilities and scenario building that if you do this, this is what will happen; if you do that, this is what will happen and these are the choices, and Nigerians will choose it. This is what I talked about the Agbawo dike izu, he is making himself as one. What will happen this year and next year will change Nigeria permanently.
But APC is claiming that it has done far better for the Southeast in terms of infrastructure in its three years than 16 years of PDP, citing the Second Niger Bridge, the Onitsha- Enugu; Enugu- Port Harcourt roads etc?
I don’t want to get into that argument, and the reason is simple. All those roads you are talking about were constructed since the military era. The fact that you can’t maintain things shows the leadership failure in Nigeria, and I’m not now talking about APC. It is like comparing half a dozen and six, which is which? Who is APC, who is the PDP, isn’t it the people that ruined PDP that went over to APC? Isn’t that the reality of what happened, so, how can you believe anything any of them says?
Even the fact of what I pointed out earlier, institutions like the World Bank and so on, give you statistics, you respond to it with bland words. I travelled from Lagos to the East by road, so all those things you are talking about, I see them and I don’t see the claims they are making.
The stretch of road from Ore to Benin, has been there before they came, and RCC was building it. Maybe they have revalidated the contract but the part from there back to Lagos is still a bad part and that is the part they should now have done.
I don’t want to get into the argument because in any case, the way Nigerians respond to what Lai Mohammed says, what Adesina says and what Garba Shehu says is enough for any sensible man not to pick words with them because Nigerians already know who to believe and who not to believe. Credibility is a very fragile path and when you lose it you have lost it and that is actually where APC is right now. Even people like me who want to be objective have seen so many contradictions in what they claim that I prefer to suspend judgement. When people like me suspend judgement, it hurts whichever government because we are the ones that our opinions validate what the government claims. They have to work harder to regain confidence; they do not have people’s confidence right now.
You mentioned credibility right now, the APC says Atiku has a rotten baggage of corruption, and even Prof Itse Sagay says he is corrupt, don’t you think it will affect his chances at the polls?
It is also part of what we are talking about. When you are making a weighty argument, produce the facts and figures. I don’t want to be a mouthpiece for Atiku; he is quite capable of defending himself. But, two things he has said, which I find interesting: He said, have I ever been taken to any court; has anybody documented any examples, none has.
Lai Mohammed and others have learnt a bit from the school of Josef Goebbels, the Information man for Hitler, unfortunately, a lie told often enough creates a problem. I don’t want to defend Atiku, he is capable of defending himself, but that area is not going to stick, unless they do more works and present more facts than the general statements in the newspapers.
Again, this is the tragedy of Nigeria; Itse Sagay is PhD Cambridge, as I am. He was one of the younger Nigerians and we hold ourselves in mutual respect, but Itse Sagay I have seen in the last three years is not the Itse Sagay I knew. Even the things he says, I don’t think he himself believes them, and this is a very thorough scholar, which is why maybe it is dangerous to get involved in Nigeria’s politics.
I have been very disappointed and I’m sure that he will not be surprised that I said I’m disappointed.
Maybe that is why some of you are running away from politics?
I’m not running away. I have always intervened. In September/ October 2002, I received a telephone call; the caller said he is Turaki. I was still thinking of the Turaki, and then he said Turaki Adamawa. At that time, there was one Turaki that was governor of Jigawa State. I thought it was him. I said, vice president, he said, yes.
He asked, I’m in Lagos next week, I said, yes. He said ‘I would come and see you.’ I said ‘you are the vice president; I will be the one to come and see you.’ He made a joke that it is the patient who needs the doctor that goes to the doctor, I said except in an emergency. He said this is an emergency.
He came the next week. I’m telling you this story because he has told it to Simeon Kolawole, who published a bit of it in his back page column in Thisday. He said he has convinced Obasanjo that they should set up a committee that would look at what they tried to do economically and what they should now do and they wanted me to chair it. I asked him a few questions and he answered, and I gave him three conditions and he accepted them. For example, I said there shall be no announcement that such committee being chaired by Prof Anya is doing so so and so thing, and when we finish, you and the president would sit down and go through the report, make your observations and we finalise, and I hand it over to you then our work is finished. That is what happened.
The president and his deputy didn’t sit together, but we saw one and later the other.
In hindsight, the brilliant thing that Obasanjo did, was that of the five of us that were in the committee, three of them were appointed into the new government in 2003, and three of them were members of the Economic Management Team. When Okonjo- Iweala came, there was already a blueprint on the table. Those who took part in putting it together were the people she was working with. The difference between the economic management of the Obasanjo’ s years in the first term and second is like the difference between night and day because there was a plan that they were faithful to.
I’m telling this story for two reasons, from that encounter, it showed me that Atiku has the humility of leadership; he is prepared to listen, to learn. That is the problem we have now because people who want to intervene don’t know how to do so, as the atmosphere of humility and so on that is necessary is not there.
Leadership is to make sure you get the best of your people and use the capacity of your people to share your vision; if you do not have a vision and if you cannot choose the right people, then you are wasting your time. It is because of that little encounter with Atiku that I’m likely to believe what he said to the Igbo that he already has a team of constitutional lawyers because I have had that experience with him, so I will believe him. Ability to use those you know that know more than you is an important part of leadership.
Some of other Igbo groups have distanced themselves from the Atiku’s endorsement, and they said those at the meeting were induced to do what they did. What is your reaction to this?
Those people saying that are insulting themselves. Let them take the list of names that were in that place and see whether they fit in themselves.
Chekwas Okorie has said something, and somebody called Nnanta, wherever that one comes from I don’t know because I have not heard of such a name; he is now a world Igbo leader, but it is part of the tragedy of Igbo land. In Yoruba land, in the North, people will at least have a certain humility that will not allow them say things when they see certain names, they will hesitate, but unfortunately our people do not have the discipline of knowing where to stop or where to use discretion. Look at those names that made comments, take them and put them against when you line up all the people at the Enugu meeting, you would probably have to line up another 2,000 Igbo leaders behind those that were at Enugu before those people talking can fit in. Unfortunately, that is the way we are, so we must accept ourselves.
You are talking about Buhari and Atiku in the election, judging from recent elections or bye-elections, PDP has not performed well, is that not a sign of what to come in 2019?
I do not accept that judgment; they could do better than they did. Certainly, they did better than the government before them and probably they did better than the government that succeeded them. I prefer a situation that if for example, you had said this, I would go in to give you details on the GDP in the PDP years and now; give you the growth rate in those years and now; give you the demographics, the way it was and now. It is when you have such data, that is when you can speak. All those data are in favour of PDP.
What was the growth rate of the economy in 2015 when PDP was given way? It has come from a growth rate of more than seven per cent and has come down to about six point something, and less than six months after APC came, we were sliding into recession.
There was a lecture, which I called the genesis of recession. You see what’s happening in the American stock market this week, and this is an economy that has been doing very well throughout the year, and immediately, based on what they expect Trump to do, which he is not doing, confidence is going. That is exactly what happened in Nigeria. When it took more than six months before you could have a cabinet, and for a man who has contested three times before, everybody should be at his beck and call because he has already known and he has been working at it, but it took six months, and when the list came out there were no surprises. They were the same old stock. Then whenever he travels abroad, ‘ corruption, corruption, corruption’, and this is a country that is asking people to come and invest, but you are telling them, ‘please don’t come because I can’t protect you’, as it is in government’s place to put in the regulatory agencies to make sure there is no corruption and make sure that foreign resources are protected.
The result was in 2014, some of the international agencies still rated Nigeria among the countries they called, emerging economies, where investors were rushing to come into, but where the president opened his mouth and said this and that, everybody stopped and the money never came back and that’s why the economy dived. Even though we say the recession is over, really. It’s not over because it is about the growth of point two per cent. So, lets be serious, we can’t deceive ourselves, and if we deceive ourselves we can’t deceive other people.
But APC says it is taking Nigeria out from the 16-foot abyss that PDP took the country in its 16 years reign
I’m saying, get to the analysis of the economy; get to the analysis of the social condition. We have not had this number of poor people after India. Why don’t they take the statistics of the growth rate in the PDP years and the growth rate now, and what has happened to the poor and so on.
When you do that there is a basis to discuss because you bring your figures and I bring mine; you find errors in my figures and I find in yours. You cannot argue on things when there are no figures because the thing you are talking about is not measurable. Quantification is the first line in any argument. I’m a scientist, and work with figures, quantities, measurable indices.
What are your expectations for the 2019 elections?
My expectations are simple and I thank God that my Christian faith is as strong as it is, and I believe all the prophecies that have come out on Nigeria, and they are very good, and we are in the defining moment.
This is a time that this government has to beware; this is a time Nigerians face the new situation before them because, look at the kind of quality people who want to contest and become president, it underlines the fact that Nigeria has quality people, but we have not been able to use them, that will change after this year.
It may be a period of transition that things may not sort themselves out but the future for me is bright. Nigeria has finally come to terms to know that we have not done well, but we can do better. If you look at the younger people whether it is Kinsley Moghalu, Sowore, Ezekwesili and others, you know that we have quality people, and you ask yourself how come we are where we are. The fact that people like that are now coming out makes the difference, and it will take sometimes to sort it out.
My confidence is that we have learnt lessons over the last three years and those lessons will not be wasted. There will be surprises for all politicians whether PDP, APC, etc. Look at the advert for the Next Level. Have you seen that it was plagiarised, it was from the Rex Institute. Can you see where they have reduced us? With all due humility, I went to Cambridge University and beat some of the best they have, and it is not me, there are more brilliant Nigerians who have been to those places and who have even done better. The people who are leading us do not represent us any longer. Are you saying that they couldn’t be original enough?
Do you think the APC or President Buhari will concede defeat like PDP or Jonathan if they lose the next election?
I’m confident of what God will do. Human beings will plan, but God will do what only Him can do. We are coming out of a phase in Nigeria’s history and we are going into a new more positive one, and it doesn’t depend upon Buhari, it doesn’t depend upon Atiku. It depends upon God and Nigerian people. Nigerian people have already shown that they have reached the limit of tolerance. If you move around, can’t you see that this country is just literally mere chaos and a little thing can set out a major conflagration in this country right now? Take the statistics of people who are killed here and there for various reasons, how can that be in a country and you think all is well, and you think you can go on with politics as usual. We are getting into a period of change; the new change.