Home » Nigeria crashing, must be pulled back from the brink – Ex-minister

Nigeria crashing, must be pulled back from the brink – Ex-minister

ABC Nwosu

Former Minister of Health, Prof ABC Nwosu, shares his thoughts with RAPHAEL EDE on the 2023 general elections and his vision for a new Nigeria, among other issues

What do you envisage for Nigeria this year?

My expectation is that Nigeria should come back to her old self where everybody was his brother’s keeper, where the anthem said that though tribes and tongue defer in brotherhood we stand. Nigerians want a situation where what worked for Adamu should work for Shehu, should work for Okeke and should work for Abiye. So, that is what I wish for Nigeria. I had just finished my Secondary School Class 3 when Nigeria became independent and I went to one of the last of the government secondary schools built by the then Eastern Region; at the age of 13, I could travel from my home unaccompanied in a bus hundreds of kilometres to my school from my hometown. It was peaceful. We were taught well. We had jobs. We had our welfare taken care of. That is what I wish we must return to in Nigeria. I was ruled by a Premier called Dr M. I. Okpara and he had a vision for Eastern Nigeria. By the time he died, he had no property, he had not amassed any wealth; that is, he served the people. That is the Nigeria I wished for in 2023, that is the Nigeria I pray for. I pray that the electorate will vote for a president who will make that happen.

The people of the South-East believe that the presidency should have been zoned to the region for the forthcoming election. What is your though on this?

I will first begin by saying it is right before God and therefore should be right before man that the South-East must have the chance for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023. I have said so many times and I am not about to go back on what I believe strongly in. I have been too long on this journey; in 1994/1995 when we organised ‘Mkpoku Igbo’, I was the chairman of the organising committee. It was at that ‘Mkpoku Igbo’ that Dr Alex Ekwueme propounded the six geo-political zones and the rotational presidency; and among those elected to come to that (Sani) Abacha conference were Ekwueme, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and I was his campaign manager. We had people like Yar’Adua and Senator Olusola Saraki. We had Atiku Abubakar and all attended that conference.

One of the resolutions of that conference was that the presidency shall rotate between the North and the South. There was a draft constitution, which emanated from that conference as was required by the law setting up that conference, which was similar to the one setting up the 1979 conference. Members of that 1995 conference were elected; they were not nominated. According to the draft constitution, there shall be three vice-presidents; one from the zone of the President and it was explicit so that if the President dies, the person from his zone shall complete his tenure. That kind of provision will only be made if the country was hell-bent on rotational presidency and almost all of them have died and I am seeing their labour was in vain. So, I want to state that I believe in rotational presidency 100 per cent.

Specifically, what are your thoughts about power shift and rotational presidency?

Justice and equity; these two things demand that the presidency must go to the South-East. It is fair, it is right, it is just. I was part of the South-East, Middle Belt conference. The communiqué is there…I am sure Prof Jerry Gana has the communiqué. The communiqué for the South-East, South-South conference is there. There was the South-South Peoples Assembly led by Dr Raymond Dokpesi. We also had another meeting for the South-East, South-West. I have all these communiqués and they are quite explicit that if it is not South-South, it must be South-East. Remember that the South-East gave the South-South the greatest support. Goodluck Jonathan ruled, and he knew that the South-East was a backbone. When the PDP was formed, and those who were there sitting in Jerry Gana’s house at the early meetings knew that the interim chairman was Alex Ekwueme, and somebody mentioned that the presidency should be zoned by Ekwueme, leading northern politicians and that was why the leading northern politicians then supported Dr Alex Ekwueme.

After June 12 issues, the Igbo gave massive votes to Olusegun Obasanjo. It then surprises me that at a stage, Jonathan was being said to consider running (for the presidency). I don’t know why whenever something comes to the South-East and Ndigbo, everybody will say ‘they have come again’. So, it is either we make up our minds as a country that Ndigbo are part of the country or that they are not part of this country. But for you to have senior and junior Nigerians, it can never be accepted by Ndigbo and the South-East; never!

What is your view about the chances of Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate?

Talking about Mr Peter Obi, I have a vested interest in Mr Peter Obi, and therefore, I cannot comment on him. I have known Obi for a long time. I think Nigeria will be making a mistake if it refuses to avail itself of the character and qualities of Mr Obi. But having said that, it is important for us to know that we are at crossroads; we have borrowed beyond our limit. We are directionless in the way we are going; we don’t have vision for Nigeria. At the return of democracy in 1999, when President (Olusegun) Obasanjo appointed me as a political adviser, there were few appointments that he made at the podium as he was being sworn in. Not on 30th of May, but on 29th of May. He appointed Joseph Sanusi the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor; Gaius Obaseki, Group Managing Director, NNPC; and Musiliu Smith, Inspector-General of Police, and me, Prof ABC Nwosu, as a political adviser.

So, we were the people who started with him, and I was in the political realm. The others had specific assignments. The first assignment I undertook was to set up a committee and said, ‘Come on, we cannot do this without a vision, and we will enter with a vision’. President Obasanjo demanded a vision that would guide the overall policies and actions of the government. I got people like my late friend, George Obiozor; I got Father Matthew Kukah, I got people like Chieweizu, and we formed the overarching vision, which was African renaissance. Obasanjo thought of how Nigeria by becoming efficient, by becoming a leading economy, by becoming a leading country in Africa could uplift the rest of Africa. This is the role of Nigeria, and that was why Obasanjo quickly formed an alliance with Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, and both of them worked together. That was it. You can’t govern without a vision.

In 2023, there must be an overarching vision; we must be pulled back from the brink. Nigeria is about to crash. We are not a nation; we are a country of different tribes and religions. You cannot do it by saying you are a unifier; no, you are not a unifier; we have nation-building institutions like the Federal Government Colleges, like the NYSC, they will help the country to become a nation. And we need somebody who can do that. The most basic thing is to tackle education. I can’t see why the first nine months of the NYSC programme shouldn’t be spent in giving survival skills or military skills, and you use the rest of the 12 or 15 months to use them as an army in the remotest areas to correct the number of out-of-school children and poor quality of education, and give quality education.

So, it must be clear what we are going to do, and until we define the job from 2023, if we define the job, the person to do the job will come out. You don’t just come out and say you want to be president. Of course, restructuring is key; Nigeria cannot go on with this structure. Those who say no restructuring are cheating other people and they are enjoying it. For how long do you think you can cheat other people? Restructuring is a win-win situation for everybody, be it big ethnic groups, small ethnic groups, the elite, and the common people.

Do you think the promise by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, to relinquish power to the South-East after his terms as president is enough to gain the region’s trust and support ahead of the presidential election?

I am a member of the Board of Trustees for the PDP and Atiku Abubakar is a candidate of the PDP, but I am also Prof ABC Nwosu with a conscience. I have a conscience and I have a duty to do right for myself. I will not comment on what the presidential candidate of the PDP says; let him continue on it, but I can’t believe that the fate of 60 million Igbo depends on one man, I don’t think so. In 2019, I was among the people who requested that the Igbo should give the bulk of their votes to Atiku Abubakar, and we worked hard at it, but we have paid a serious price in the last four years for giving Atiku the votes. That is the basis of the 97 per cent and five per cent rates. As far as I am concerned, that was because Mr Peter Obi was chosen as the vice-presidential candidate, and we saw it then as a chance.

Politics is dynamic; if Atiku does eight years; that will take us to almost 2031 before we begin to have a president when we can have a president in 2023. It is a situation where each Igbo person will take his decision earlier before political parties embark on primaries. I said that the 2023 elections will be a DNA test for the Igbo, and I still stand by it and it will be completely out of character for me to now say that my fate in Nigeria is dependent on one person; it is not.

Some people say if the presidency should go to the South, it should go to the South-East. What do you make of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the candidate of the All Progressive Congress?

My position has been clear again on this; if you look at the social media, I have a video on that for him to run. He can exercise his citizenship right but he should not run for that simple fact and I thanked President Obasanjo and thanked Ayo Adebanjo for standing tall, and on a note. There’s morality first, there is justice first, there’s equity first before the political party. When people say the political party is supreme, they are unintelligent. The political party is only supreme when it does the right thing and does the proper thing. The party is not intelligent when it does the wrong thing, and my late friend, George Obiozor, never got tired of reminding Nigeriens that people denied justice are not interested in peace. That is why you don’t find any high ranking Igbo or any serious person in the South-East condemning the Igbo agitators for separatist existence.

This year’s election will determine for me as an Igbo whether I am really wanted in Nigeria or not. So, I think I have a video and this year, Bola Tinubu knows that it is the Igbo in Lagos that helped him to become the only governor standing. And that was why Akabueze and Igbokwe found themselves in the cabinet. But that is for him; he can deny it, he may not deny it. I’m talking about things I was part of and I knew about.

Do you think the South-East has played the kind of politics that will enhance its chances at the polls?

I don’t usually comment on people if I can help it. But there are two types of politicians: those who play politics of principle and those who play transactional politics –what is in it for me? Whatever anybody follows, let the future and history judge him. I had earlier said in one lecture that such people would die and not mourned by the Igbo. There are those who play principled politics, which is simply that if it is not right, it is not right. That is the politics I was brought up in. My uncle, Dr Nwafor Orizu, was the acting President who handed over to the military. So, I was introduced to politics early and my family was greatly associated with Mbazuluike Amechi going to the House in 1959. The greatest human being to me remains Dr Michael Iheonukara Okpara. They played politics of principle; they played politics that if it is not right, it is not right.

I think Nigerians should tread carefully in 2023. All these transactional politics, ‘I need an oil block’, ‘I want to be chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority’, ‘I want to be in charge of Customs’ and I want to be this or that should be out of the question. This is not what do I get and what do we get? No. We must begin to build a nation. We’re not a nation.

A prominent Nigerian from the South-East, Prof George Obiozor, just passed away. Considering the role he played in seeking a president from Igbo extraction, do you think his demise will affect the chances of an Igbo man emerging the leader of the country this year?

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo has a constitution. Imo State is supposed to present the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and complete the remainder of the tenure of Prof George Obiozor. I have already paid my tribute to Prof Obiozor. He was not just the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, he was a close personal friend of mine and his death is very painful to me and my family. George is one of the remaining last strategic thinkers we have in Igbo land. Ikemba (Odumegwu) Ojukwu is gone, Arthur Nwankwo is gone, (Uche) Chukwumerije and now, George Obiozor. I think that George is irreplaceable. But having said that, it will also be a betrayal of what George stood for if the Igbo are still on this transactional politics with the 2023 presidency. ‘We are Nigerians; we are entitled to the presidency of this country. There is nobody who has not been elected. We are entitled to it’. By the way, the draft constitution at the end of the (Sani) Abacha conference that was submitted by Justice Karibi-Whyte said the presidency of the country shall rotate between the North and the South.

The South-East is becoming a no-go area. What do you make of the level of insecurity in the region?

That is the reason why we should vote carefully next year. When you push people to the wall, you may be succeeding, but one day the explosion will happen in your face and you can’t contain it. It happened in 1967; I nearly lost my life as an officer in the Biafran Army. I was in my final year when the war broke out. I was enrolled at the University of Ibadan when the disturbances started. I fled from the University of Ibadan, Teddy Hall, to University of Nigeria when the insecurity became too much. So, I should know what I am talking about. I was in secondary school class four when Nigeria became independent; so, I should know what I’m talking about. We were so engrossed; I don’t think Nnamdi Azikiwe was the richest Nigerian; Obafemi Awolowo was not the richest Nigerian and Tafawa Balewa was also not the richest Nigerian, and as I told you, I was a commissioner when under Emeka Omeruah as a governor, we found land and gave to Michael Okpara’s family in GRA Enugu. He (Okpara) was also in-charge of GRA Port Harcourt, everything – industrial layout, which he created and he didn’t take anything. These were our leaders.

The current leaders are so engrossed in private planes that I don’t know who owned the first private plane but now, private planes are all over the place. Private jets are all over the place; a mark of my Mercedes is bigger than yours now. And they are the people who are trying to make the government, bring the government down by supporting the government so that they will continue. I was hoping that when we talked of change in 2015, somebody will have the sense to park private jets in a manner that only those who need them can have them because they use the common airspace; they use facilities provided by Nigeria. They should pay, so that it doesn’t become a prestige thing to become something that big companies need not individuals need so that they will not be seen in the same plane with ordinary mortals like us. So, I think that the people pushing governance now are the multi billionaires because they realised that the easiest way to maintain private jets among others is through oil blocks, which neither Azikiwe nor Awolowo nor Tafawa Belewa nor Ahmadu Bello nor M. I. Okpara nor all these people had. So, I don’t know when our greed will consume us and consume the nation, but I think that we have to do the right thing in 2023 or my prediction shall be that it will not be long after when the consequences will hit us in the face.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment