Nigeria not safe without 2014 conference –Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife
Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife is former governor of Anambra State and ex-political adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo. In this Interview with Charles Adegbite, he speaks on the agitation for Biafra, the Boko Haram insurgency, oil crisis among other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
If you look at the prolonged fuel scarcity and the untold hardship it has inflicted on Nigerians despite the ultimatum the Senate gave President Buhari to resolve it, what do you have to say?
On the issue of petroleum products and their scarcity, I speak with sympathy for the efforts of government. I see the government wanting to solve the problem permanently. The president was advised to immediately stop fuel subsidy. He refused and that’s very good.
I can see where they are going. This is what I think they are doing. They want to stop importation of petroleum products. That the private sector is importing petroleum cannot stop fuel subsidy. Now what do I think government is doing which I am supporting? I think the government wants to refine the quantity of crude meant for the domestic market . When I say domestic market, I include neighboring countries. Now, if the government succeeds in dedicating a quantity of crude oil for the domestic market and refining it at home and by contract overseas, then they have control over price.
Remember this country is a high cost economy.
There is no product or products which have the same impact on the overall economy like petroleum products. Now, if the government is refining the quantity dedicated to the domestic market it will be free to give a price for the market. And with that price, the government will be subsidizing all the activities in the economy.
Whether we are producing internally or by contract refining abroad, the government is in control of the price of petroleum products in the domestic market. And all this is achievable. Therefore, for people like me who look at the direction the government is going, I can bear the temporary burden of scarcity.
I hope the Senate will, for a change, think about some of us old men and our recommendations. When the ministerial list was given to the Senate, I said I hope they will find big heart to think broadly and do justice. Well, after all the noise and distractions, that was what was done. Now, the Senate embarked on private investigation and found out what the President is doing.
I must say things are so bad that everybody should be careful how we manage the psychology of Nigerians. I tell the truth as I see it. It doesn’t matter whether it hurts A or B. Some people will think I am looking for problem, others will know that I am looking for Nigeria to manifest its great destiny which is the purpose of God for her.
Do you think Mr. President should be minister for petroleum, with all the challenges he has to face? Do you think the issue of petroleum challenges will easily be resolved?
If you give me an opportunity to make a general statement, I will appeal to the president to take his eyes off the job of the minister. Let Mr. President concentrate only on the anti-corruption crusade. Let the president allow these younger people who are called ministers to manage this economy. Therefore let the ministers run the affairs of the ministries. Let the president concentrate only on anti- corruption crusade. He is qualified for that. He was voted in for that and expected to do that. Let him do that.
The Minister of State for Petroleum is very intelligent. I am not saying so, because I am a Harvard University alumnus and he is also one. No, If he is allowed to manage the petroleum ministry he will get better results.
He should let the minister be totally responsible for running the petroleum ministry. I don’t even mind Mr. President answering minister of petroleum but he should just let the young man do the job. Also, apart from concentrating on the anti-corruption crusade, let Mr. President allow each minister to take charge of his ministry. We are getting older but we don’t know the consequence it is having on our health. We think we know many things and we can do many things. In Zimbabwe, the president is doing everything but you know he is going down, down, down. If you saw me on television few years ago, it’s not the same person you see today because my brain is not as sharp as when I left Harvard University many years ago although everybody knows that I’m gifted.
So, my recommendation is that Mr. President should hands- off the running of the petroleum ministry and be committed to anti corruption crusade and other presidential responsibilities to let the economy get better. If he concentrates all his energy on fighting corruption and succeeds, our nation will be better for it.
What do you have to say about the ban on importation of rice?
I heard that importation of rice was banned, then I heard that the ban was lifted. If the ban on importation of rice is still in place, I doff my hat for the government. My brother, anything you are importing, it’s unemployment you are importing.
If the government does not do something good and with all honesty, if it doesn’t ban importation of rice or you ban and lift ban, you will never be self reliant . In fact, importation of anything agricultural which is being produced in Nigeria should be banned.
Why should we be importing pineapple juice? Are we cursed? We should be producing pineapples, we should be producing banana, we should be producing flour. We should be producing various agricultural products and exporting to Europe and other parts of the world.
This unemployment is artificial. Backwardness is artificial. This underdevelopment is artificial. So, please encourage government when it is doing the right thing, criticize it when it’s doing the wrong thing.
The ban on rice is right. If it was lifted it’s truly bad, because if you ban and lift the ban , when next you make a policy it will not be taken seriously. People will not take you seriously.
So, as far as agricultural produce is concerned, let us depend on the surplus fertile land God gave us in Nigeria and employ able bodied youths who are idle as of today.
Some people said the power, works and housing ministries given to Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola as minister are too challenging, especially power and works, and may not let him be as efficient as expected. Do you agree?
Before I say anything, I admire Fashola. He is very cool and I’ve known him since he was Chief of Staff to Tinubu. I believe in his ability. Fashola is very competent. He is also honest. Fashola is the superman among us. God gave him intellect and integrity. So, he is one able man but his appointment is politics carried too far.
I was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour. Labour is a great job; hard brain job and I was settling matters everywhere. During my tenure as Permanent Secretary, there was no strike in Nigeria. In fact, there was a time I was Chairman of Income Board. From there I was deployed privately to settling matters in Aba and among other Igbo people. That was why Alhaji Shehu Shagari said that I should go to Labour as Perm Sec. So, I understand the Ministry of Labour and it requires intellect. Yes, but it is not a choice ministry; everybody knows that.
Okay look at the other one, the Ministry of Science and Technology; it is not a choice ministry. Everybody knows that. Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a big place for foreign affairs.
Power is enough a ministry for one person. I have written some congratulatory messages to the minister. I told him if he thinks there is anywhere that I can assist, I’m available and I will render the service free. In the area of power, we are looking forward to seeing him succeed in the Nigerian system where everybody else has been failing. But how can you concentrate on Housing and Works at the same time? Go to the East, from Umuahia to Port Harcourt where there is absolutely no good road.
l have something to suggest on works. After he has gone there and come back we must mobilize local government power, states power and federal powers and build sustainable roads.
One has a way of paying for it. You don’t wait to have pot holes all over the place; waiting to destroy the roads before you build the new roads.
If you go to the US, you find the roads likeable round the year, no bad road. Why? It’s because they are maintained round the year. You don’t wait for the roads to become like Onitsha and Benin roads. All of these have collapsed. The local government through which the state road passes has a responsibility. The states through which the federal road passes have a responsibility and of course the Federal Government is responsible for all roads.
A system must be worked out whereby road maintenance is a daily affair. We don’t wait for roads to collapse before maintaining them. Maintenance is the name of the game and anyway, that tells you what I have been saying.
Looking at the persistent bombing of some parts of the North east in pursuit of the December deadline given by Mr. President that the military should rout Boko Haram insurgents, what do you have to say?
Let me say that the issue of security is complicated. I am sure the president didn’t know how difficult it was at the time he said in two months Boko Haram will be something of the past, and that there will be no insecurity because they would get everything under control.
Yes, if you don’t want to be gentle you may blame him for that. But anybody knows that you cannot blame Buhari because he is doing the best anybody can do. He has solicited help from the world powers to assist in putting an end to this thing. He has deployed local resources to put an end to Boko Haram insurgency.
The cause of this problem was the agitation for power to return to the North. Now power has returned to the North but they have not been able to put an end to the violence they elicited. They are sustaining the violence.
What’s surprising is that when people agreed the problem will be solved now, what are they saying about the Chibok girls? Where are they? Where are they now? My brother, suicide is against the will of God and if you commit suicide you must go to hell. They kill people at random for no just cause in the name of agitation.
If CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and similar organs are mobilised to talk to religious fanatics who talk about jihad, who talk about fighting on behalf of God or defending God. If we stop talking about this thing there will be peace in the world. And people may realize that what they think they are doing on behalf of God is against the will of God.
So, Buhari has made efforts, serious efforts in some areas. My advice is we should praise them when they merit it. I don’t need to blame. I have to know what should be done better for me to fault what others have done. I don’t see what he could have done better than he’s doing on security.
For over a month now, there has been this agitation for Republic of Biafra. Sir, what do you think South Eastern people are concerned about?
Let me tell you what you also know. If Nigerians believe with openness, we could have solved half of the problems. Tell me what Buhari gained from detaining Nnamdi Kanu for one more hour.
What is happening is people are protesting the detention of Nnamdi Kanu and the youths that were killed during the protest. I made it clear and some people said I was calling for Biafra.
I want you people to get it from the beginning. Of course, in Igbo there is something we call Eji ndo kene keni which in English means “what is life without honour to a person”? That’s the simple question. What’s life if we have no honour? Go to your history books and you will find that most people committed suicide, because they found no honour in their lives. So, what are you doing with life which has no honour in it?
Now you are marginalized totally, you are discriminated against totally. 39 appointments were made in your country not one of you is there. You have six geopolitical zones in your country, six political appointments in your country and you didn’t get one of them.
The people who killed you in the North, Boko Haram people who were imprisoned in the North were taken to your core home as prisoners. These people who have been brain washed. When time comes they will say there was a jail break and these people will come and be attacking your people in their homes. And you want our people to keep quiet? These people are trying to enforce Islam.
One of your people was given a job at NIMASA and in two days he was removed. The same thing happened in the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps for political reasons. So, if they are agitating for Biafra tomorrow they are protesting against injustice, marginalization and under development in this part of the country.
Somebody who was arrested in the cause of insurgency in Abuja was taken to court and bailed.
In your own case of peaceful protest you are detained for months without bail. Some of them might have been somebody who was arrested for mass killing in Abuja and he was taken to court and granted bail, for being somebody from the North.
I am saying what can now become more injustice than being alienated in your country?
Those who are agitating for justice and fair play were killed and detained without bail. Those who were killing people en mass on weekly basis are being asked to come for amnesty if they are ready for amnesty.
Nine of our people died during the Onitsha protest. Should these continue? I don’t pray they should continue. Ohanaeze had a meeting in Enugu and issued a communiqué. The communiqué was very balanced yet the government did not think over it.
What do you have to tell government and your people who are protesting?
We appeal to government to release this person and we don’t believe the youths would go ahead to continue with this thing. We appeal to youths also, we understand that you are reacting to injustice, you are reacting to an offence, you are reacting to marginalization and planned discrimination.
Therefore we understand you. You are obeying the Igbo anthem? Why should you die? You have robbed Onitsha, you have robbed Owerri, you have robbed citizens in the East who are suffering.
Are you achieving your objectives or helping your opponents to achieve their objectives by killing your people more? These are the areas we considered and appeal to the youths to think of an alternative strategy.
This road we have chosen is only bringing the negative effects our opponents want. Therefore, why not look at an alternative way. No human should attack anybody not for Igbo land, not in Igbo land. No properly brought up Igbo man will attack a guest, somebody living among us for any reasons.
But from the look of things, riots and arson are not allowed. People know when they made a mistake, but let me shout louder than I can even shout that no Hausa, Fulani, Northerner or anybody making a move for South-East should be attacked for any reason.
And if I am being quoted, they know why. The worst thing we can do is to look at a guest, our guests with bad eye. So, an alternative must be worked out. We cannot allow those who are against us to achieve what they want to achieve against us.
What do you have to tell Buhari on the issue of national conference and Nigeria’s problems?
There is a problem. Some people think they have the advantage with the present political structure in Nigeria. First of all, some people are myopic, short sighted. We were amalgamated in 1914 and we have seen how it is and the British gave an advantage to some people; the military added to that advantage.
And the core North believed that their men are there. If you don’t want the advantage you will leave Nigeria.
Well, is that what will keep Nigeria? The 2014 conference recommendations provided the solution on how to get one Nigeria and these recommendations must be implemented by any fair- minded government.
The Almighty God created Nigeria not the British. God created Nigeria with a purpose; not just to be the largest concentration of black race in the world, but also to dignify the states of all blacks.
Ultimately, to wipe the shame of slavery off the black race in the world. To achieve this should be the goal of a good Nigeria leader. You cannot achieve this with the structural defects in the country today. You can achieve it with recommendations of 2014 national conference.
Yes, there are short sighted people in Nigeria and I want to say there are reasonable Nigerians in every part of Nigeria too.
There are some areas other people excel. As a group, Nigeria is designed by God for unmatched greatness, incomparable climate, geophysical structure, no earthquake, no volcanoes, surplus manpower and land. There are so many talents from many tribes in Nigeria and many things.
They were designed for us. The size of Nigeria is important in the manifest of Nigeria and if intimidation comes, it cannot be or forced. We want to be in the world and in the Africa.
What I am saying is that the recommendations of the 2014 national conference must be implemented and outside that, if you doubt it you can convene another conference to look at it.
As long as you implement 2014 recommendations, you are safe.