By Temidayo Akinsuyi
Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra state recently clocked 80 years. In this exclusive interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI in his Asokoro, Abuja residence, he shares his thoughts on the state of the nation and the 2019 general elections. Excerpts:
Congratulations sir on your 80th birthday. What are your thoughts on Nigeria?
My perspective on Nigeria at my 80th Birthday is that it is a monumental failure. This is not the Nigeria for which I led a carol on the night of our independence. I was a headmaster of a small school but I organised a night carol on the day of our independence. We walked around on foot, making merry and praising God. This is not the Nigeria which we celebrated then. That Nigeria ended in 1966 and that is why some older people like us are talking about restructuring. In 1954, our founding fathers chose a structure for Nigeria. It was a federal system with regions as federating units. In those days, Obafemi Awolowo could do what he liked; the same with Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and so on. The result was clear. The World Bank made a statement about Nigeria. During that period, the World Bank said parts of Nigeria were growing faster than the rest of the world. That is because of the structure which enabled the regions to grow at their own pace and made what is happening in the regions belong to the people of the region. I pay tax, you pay tax and there is nothing else except our taxes. So, anybody whether a Premier or Governor knows that he is investing the money of our sweat. Now, things have changed. The Prime Minister of Britain, Theresa May came and said Nigeria is now the poverty capital in the world; the leader of poverty. We couldn’t challenge her because she said the truth. Nigeria which produced things and we were referred as the fastest growing in the world is now referred to as the leader of poverty.
What do you think has changed between then and now?
What changed was that that structure agreed by our founding fathers was junked. Because of the coup, there was a threat of war and we literally fought war. The Nigerian military naturally wanted something that is fast in defeating Biafra, so they said one way to defeat Biafra easily was to isolate the Igbo from the rest of the South East. So, they decided to create states leading to the creation of 12 states. Therefore they succeeded really in isolating the Igbo. It would have been alright if after the war we had gone back to the regions, but we didn’t. Instead, the Northern leaders of Nigeria were creating states and local governments without giving any attention to fairness. We ended up with 36 states and 774 local governments. The military did not care, they just allow things to go the way they chose because they are a unitary government and therefore, they wanted everything centred in the capital. So, Nigeria collapsed. As I said it and I am now reiterating it, the military who ruled Nigeria ruined the country. Now, we have no choice if we want Nigeria to progress, we must restructure and allow Nigeria to go back to the agreed structure.
One of the agenda on the manifesto of the APC is the issue of restructuring. Why do you think the ruling party has refused to do that almost four years after being in government?
Well, I don’t know. APC and Buhari their presidential candidate made many promises. At one stage, people were even joking with their name saying ‘APC means All Promises Cancelled’. So, APC made promises it did not keep. They promised change, but there was change from frying pan to fire. Exchange rate, petrol price and every other things they promised they will do, they did not do. We thought they understood what they were saying about restructuring and therefore they will go ahead and do it. When they did not restructure and are even opposed to it, it becomes clear that APC is not for the strength of Nigeria. So, we of the South- East, South- South, South- West and Middle Belt have decided that we will support the candidate who is serious about restructuring. It is one of the reasons why Atiku is the first. Atiku started with the agitation for restructuring before me and before most of us. But we hear that he may not do it after he has been elected. We believe that it is a campaign of calumny against him. But if we give him six months and he doesn’t do it, we begin to fight him. I had a meeting with the Middle Belt just before you came in and we agreed on one thing. We will support Atiku all the way but if after six months he has done nothing about restructuring, we begin to fight him all the way.
The APC is telling the people of the South East to support President Buhari now and get the presidency in 2023, do you see them fulfilling this promise when the time comes?
I was a guest on a programme at Arise Television and somebody asked me that question. The major problem I have is that I believe in the restructuring of Nigeria, therefore, the permanence of one Nigeria is my interest. The way Nigeria is going now, there can be no guarantee that Nigeria will survive another two years. If Nigeria does not survive another two years, what then is the use of Igbo presidency by 2023? There will be no Nigeria to govern. Therefore anybody telling you about 2023 must be joking because Nigeria may not last till that time.
Do you think this is what IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu is agitating for, that is the restructuring of Nigeria?
Yes but I don’t understand everything about IPOB. For example, they said no elections in 2019. Is it for Buhari to continue in office or what is the reason for that? They said no election in Anambra. I tried to come in and convince them about it. If Nnamdi Kanu were around, I will like to have a conversation with him because he is spoiling his name by talking about no election.
The election is around the corner and there is an upsurge in insecurity, do you think this may affect the elections?
That is what I am telling you that our country may not last beyond 2021 or 2022. Therefore we should all pray for peace to return for Nigeria to survive and for APC to go. I am not a member of PDP or APC but I always like to tell the truth. The APC has failed completely. There is no need to pretend. It is total failure and that is not good for Nigeria. Anybody who is a good Nigerian will not want this party to continue.
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