…‘I saw Daura people telling Buhari to leave Abuja and come home’
…Says Tanko Yakassai trying to confuse Yoruba and South-Easterners
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife is a former governor of old Anambra State. In this interview, Ezeife hopes President Muhammadu Buhari will still change his mind and quit the 2019 presidential race. He also speaks on other issues, including those affecting his Igbo people, in the polity.
The elections are almost here. The campaigns are on. In your estimation, how do you think the elections will play out to keep Nigeria’s democracy going?
I think Nigerians should be praying to God. 2019 elections are not going to be very controversial but they can lead to great difficulties and even fight. If we pray hard enough, Yoruba pray, Hausa Igbo, President Buhari may change his mind and not run.
That will be the best thing for Nigeria. If he however insists on running because some people who are behaving as friends to him are pushing him, not to use him to help Nigeria but to use him to help their pockets; you see what is happening, all the elections conducted by INEC recently have had problems.
Look at Osun State, Senator Adeleke won clearly the governorship election but these people did everything to rig the election and the presidential one is the hottest one. They will like to do everything to rig it and there’s no way President Buhari will win the presidential election unless they rig.
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Why did you say so because the President has millions of supporters as we have been made to believe?
You know them. I don’t know them. I think I saw even people from Daura saying “come home, leave Abuja”. I saw that and many people understand there’s nothing personal about what I am talking about. God bless Buhari. If it is the will of God, nobody can stop it and God works in mysterious ways. So, I am just saying my prayerful view that if it is possible, may God persuade Buhari not to run.
What do you base your reasons on because it is within his constitutional right to run for second term?
You know everything. You just want to hear something from my mouth. You know that the system has failed comprehensively.
It is total failure of Nigeria and Nigeria may be inching towards extinction the way things are going. Some people call themselves IPOB and they are talking about Biafra. The young people just saw what they saw but it is the government of Nigeria that is pushing the Igbo out of Nigeria. When you see the list of people who are excluded in the scheme of things by this government, that list is dominated by the Igbo. If you see a list of people who are appointed, Igbo is virtually vacant in that list and then there is something like a policy that says ‘pull Igbo down’. Those who are importing containers know what is going on. Their containers are seized and sold. There was a time one of us was dominant in cement importation. At a certain point he was cut off from it although he has come back now.
Our son in whom we are very proud, Ifeanyi Uba, Capital Oil, the man who made us not suffer too much when there was fuel shortage, that man was owed by government and yet incarcerated by the ‘pull Igbo down’ government.
There is one young man who, in any other country, if he defecates in the church or mosque, people will rush to clean it. Innoson (Innoson Motors) was attacked, humiliated. Even the woman, Emzor Pharmaceuticals; they talk about codeine, an international product, just to pull Igbo down, Emzor was closed down. But thank God they’ve reopened it.
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Does this have to do with the Igbo or Nigeria?
I am talking about the question you asked. Nigeria is behaving as if Igbo is not part of Nigeria. This is what brought me here.
PDP presently parades an array of presidential aspirants. I don’t know if you are a member PDP anyway but as an elder statesman, do you think Nigeria stands a chance or respite will come from any of these people?
The best person I can see happens to be Igbo. His name is Kingsley Moghalu but even APGA was zoning its presidential slot to the North. If something happens and the grace of God shines on Nigeria, not on our Moghalu, and he comes up, all the Talakawas will have Christmas. He spent 17 years in the United Nations working, and then five years at the Central Bank.
He came here and, after talking to me for only a few minutes, I said this is too much. I took him straight to Chief Edwin Clark and there, the same thing. We are impressed by him. God has given Igbo people some qualities.
We are a people of destiny and no man born of a woman can change that destiny. They can delay it a bit but what you must do, younger people, is to preach that we must have a home base. Yes, they receive us in Russia, China, they receive us everywhere in the world, but we must have a strong home base like Israel. Once we have a strong home base like Israel, then we become useful to Nigeria the way God wants it.
Yes, we started but we made some mistakes. We would go to every part of Nigeria without anything and, gradually, we make money and build palaces but there were some mistakes. We must make friends with our host communities. In fact, some of the money we make, we put it back there. What do you call those people who didn’t go to school in the North? Almajiris. We have a problem.
We send our children to school and leave the Almajiris. If you have five children of your own, add two to make seven, send them to school. Igbo are God’s gift to Nigeria. Meanwhile Nigeria is pushing Igbo down and therefore keeping Nigeria down.
Now this appears to be the time. Igbo will work to enthrone Nigeria to make Nigeria a superpower and that is our assignment and we must make sure that Almajiris don’t exist again. They will all go to school. We will make sure there is nothing like the Talakawas. Igbo is egalitarian. We like even our children to be bigger than ourselves. We want to sell that egalitarianism to all Nigerians.
Do you consider it an error that most of the political parties have zoned their presidential slot to the North?
No. Let me tell you what happened. When former President Yar’Adua died and Goodluck Jonathan took over, the Fulani were complaining that they did not complete their term. In fact, you know, they wanted to kill Jonathan but eventually they agreed. Now Jonathan finished and Buhari took over, they are talking about Buhari having eight years but not even the Fulani people agree to that because they see that Buhari is not quite able to rule Nigeria.
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So the argument is that if it is not Buhari, let it be somebody from the North to complete eight years. Well, an Igbo man has never ruled for one day, no elected Igbo President for one day; therefore, if, by chance, Moghalu gets it, nobody should complain.
It is not that we don’t understand what we are talking about. That is why even APGA from our base is zoning to the North. It is now accepted that the next President should be northern and, after that, South-East but since South-East has never been elected President, if anyone of them gets involved and is elected, it doesn’t spoil anything.
So, you support the idea that Buhari’s presidency, the second term in office is the shortest route to Igbo presidency in 2023?
No. Be careful what you are saying. Our country deserves sympathy. If you say Buhari’s second term, what if Nigeria doesn’t last two years after the election? You talk about 2023? 2020, have you survived it?
Let us talk about restructuring. Vice President Osinbajo recently clashed with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar on the terms and letters of restructuring and I do know people like you have been at the forefront on this issue. How do you think it should play out? What actually is restructuring and why are the Igbo people holding on to it?
Let me go to the beginning. In the 1960s, in fact, from 1954 to 1960s, the World Bank said that part of Nigeria was growing faster than any part of the world. That was from say 1954 to 1966. Now we have recently another statement that is quite important.
The Prime Minister of Britain came to Nigeria and said that Nigeria is growing backwards to become the poorest country on earth. What now I want to juxtapose is this; the World Bank said we were growing fastest at a certain period. Today we are growing fastest again but backwards. What has changed?
What is the difference between now and those days? I will take time and explain to you so that those who want to know will know. The structure of government we were using from 1954 to 1966 was federal system with regions as federating units.
That gave Awolowo, Zik, Opara, Tafawa Balewa, Osadebe ability to move their own areas at their own pace. We were able to develop education and agriculture. The whole country was growing fast. Then what happened? What changed? There was a coup and there was a threat of war and eventually there was war.
The military decided to win the war fast. How do they do that? To win the war fast, the Nigerian military decided to isolate the Igbo from the rest of the East. They created 12 states in Nigeria. That was the beginning of failure. The objective was to isolate the Igbo in East and the rest of the East will not be taking instructions from then military governor, Colonel Ojukwu. Now after the civil war, it would have been better if we were to go back to the structure we used to have, which was not states but federal system with regions as federating units but we didn’t do that. Instead the Muslim northern leaders of Nigeria post-war went on creating states without even caring whether they were fair or not. Eventually we got up to 36 states that we have now. They even created local governments without any regards to fairness.
How best do you want the country to be restructured?
If you know something has worked for you, go back to it. To restructure, actually we should go back to the agreed system. The leaders agreed on a system and that system is proper federalism with regions as federating units.
Alhaji Yanko Yakassai recently said restructuring was virtually a Yoruba agenda championed by uninformed Igbo. What is your reaction?
Yakassai is my friend and I know his politics. He is one of those who think they can confuse our people. He is trying to break the handshake across the Niger: ‘Let’s tell the Igbo that what they are doing is uninformed and that they are following sheepishly the Yoruba’. Yoruba and Igbo are the guiltiest groups in Nigeria because we created this Fulani dominance because if we had agreed and worked together, there is no way Fulani will come and dominate Nigeria. Alhaji Tanko Yakassai is a very good friend, in fact, I was the main speaker at his 80th birthday which happened a long time ago.
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As an elder statesman, if you were to give a piece of advice to the political parties and Nigerians as they settle for another round of elections, how would you advise them?
I would advise every Nigerian to go on their knees and pray God to save Nigeria; pray God to dissuade Buhari from contesting; pray God to change the mindset in the INEC. We have seen blatant rigging in the country and look at the other one which they couldn’t rig; maybe because people were adamant, Osun, they said the election was inconclusive. What is inconclusive about it?