Says without Igbo presidency in 2023, “Our continued participation in the politics of Nigeria is highly questionable”
As agitation heightens for a president from the South-east geopolitical zone ahead of the 2023 general elections, a leader of the Igbo nation and President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, John Nnia Nwodo, has called for an urgent affirmative action that would reconcretise Nigeria’s unity. Nwodo declared that the Igbo nation had been “left out of power apparatchik in Nigeria deliberately”, which he noted “has endangered national cohesion, national unity”. In his words, the people of the South East feel completely marginalized; they feel Nigeria has not ended the Nigerian civil war. They feel unaccepted in the Nigerian polity. They feel discriminated against…”.
The leader of the Igbo socio-cultural organization articulated the South East agenda “as a Nigeria that is all-inclusive; it is a Nigeria that is more productive, less corrupt, guarantees freedom from discrimination, and guarantees your capacity to delve into any part of the economy without administrative blocks. In other words, liberates your potentialities to achieve your optimum without any administrative encumbrances”.
In an explosive interview on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily on Tuesday, Nwodo, who attributed the marginalization of the Igbo nation in Nigeria to what he described as “a deliberate after-war policy”, stated categorically that “Everyone from the South East is agreed on two basic conditions for our continued existence in this federation. Number one, and the shortest even, an Igbo presidency in 2023 without which our continued participation in the politics of Nigeria is highly questionable. Even a child here believes in it. And far more important than this is the restructuring of the federation as soon as possible. These are our two irreducible conditions and anybody in the South East who does not believe in these is in the minority and dare not shout it in public because he would be almost committing suicide”.
According to the former information and culture minister, “There is a deliberate lack of will amongst the political class to accept the people of the South East back on equal terms as Nigerians since the end of the civil war. It is not by accident that nobody from the South East heads any of the security arms in our country – not the Army, not the Police, not the Air Force, not the Navy; not even the Road Safety Corps. It is not by accident that the commanding heights of the economy, the South East is denied access to the headship of the public sectors of the commanding heights.
“Our strength lies in the private sector and nobody has shown more acceptability of Nigeria than the people of the South East. There is no community in this country where, apart from the indigenous community, the next largest community must be South East community. I dare you to give me an example anywhere. Right now, there are 11.6 million people in Northern Nigeria; there are 3.3 million Ibos registered in Lagos State alone. There are 2.6 million Ibos in Abuja alone. I want to see any other ethnic group that surpasses that outside its areas of natural habitation and origin. So, this is a deliberate after-war policy; it is a deliberate political manoeuvre intended, or maybe we may call it a conspiracy to punish the South East for going into war, a war that was precipitated by all Nigerians, not exclusively by the South East.
“So, quite frankly, you will require what you may call an affirmative action today to reconcretise our national unity. But apart from that, a tokenism of a presidential slot to the South East is not enough. We require a restructuring of the federation. The current structure has failed; it has failed to generate national unity; it has failed to generate a strong and viable economy. It has failed to put us on the pedestal for effective participation in world economy in a competitive manner”.
Nwodo stated that on whichever party platform the aspiration for a South-east presidency is realized, APC or PDP, “It gives us the opportunity to be in the driver’s seat in order to facilitate the restructuring of this federation” declaring that for now, “There is a lack of political will”. Carpeting President Muhammadu Buhari for reneging on his campaign promise to restructure the country, the Igbo national leader recalled that “The APC which is the current government in power adopted a manifesto which recommended restructuring. In order to implement it, they set up a committee headed by the governor of Kaduna State. The committee recommended their form of restructuring. The president came out and told us in a press conference that what we needed was not structure but process; whatever that means; capitulating on the manifesto with which he went into election and “won”.
“So the question is we are sitting on a quicksand. Every index of responsibility is denied our country today. Our children have no meaningful education; the education you had. Your child is not receiving the same standard of education. Everything for which a country derives respect and integrity is denied us. And corruption is at its worst ebb. Look at the chairman of the EFCC is being investigated privately; but the chief justice of Nigeria was investigated publicly. What kind of system is this? His crimes are hidden. Nobody is prepared to tell us why he was interrogated for such a long time or what he’s being charged with. What kind of country is this?”
As far as Nwodo is concerned, an Igbo presidency would be a blessing to Nigeria. “I am saying that offering the South East an opportunity to lead Nigeria will not only be beneficial to Nigeria because the South East, by virtue of their make-up, have peculiar characteristics for turning something out of nothing. The people of the South East are very gregarious, very industrious, and very adventurous; and at no time in the economy of this country do you need a leadership with such characteristics as now. Thirdly, on a long-term basis, we have to radicalize the structure of Nigeria and release and unbundle central power so that there can be competition from all the federating units and we can accord to the agreement of our forefathers in becoming a federation….”
Boasting of the capacity of a president from the zone to turn around the fortunes of Nigeria, Nwodo reeled out its landmark achievements, recalling that “We had the first iron and steel complex in the whole of Nigeria in the South East; we developed it. We’ve built the first indigenous university in Nigeria considering that the University of Ibadan was a campus of University of London. We attracted world-class professor like Professor Glen Taggart; Nsukka was booming; it had international reputation. We built the second brewery in the whole of Nigeria after the Nigerian Breweries – the Golden Guinea. We built the first gas complex… I am saying in statecraft, in capacity to galvanise the economy; I boast it. The South East is momentous.
“Peter Obi, as governor of Anambra State, sky-rocketed Anambra into the first state in education. Right now, Governor Obiano has done that. Anambra State won the first place in school certificate examination; we have capacity to help ourselves. But the system has jaundiced us and it is erected intentionally to jaundice us. And our self-determination urge does not allow us to continue to patronize a system which deliberately is aimed at keeping us down”.
He said to belong to a country like Nigeria, “if history bears me out, is got to be the free will of the federating units. You don’t through a military junta, impose a constitution and force a style of government on the rest of the country; it will never endure. If it does not end in our generation, it will end in the generation of our children and God forbid that it should lead us to another civil war. I am one of those opposed to anything that will lead us to a breakdown of law and order in our country. And I am glad that a number of people in our country are beginning to come to terms with the reality that we have no choice other than to restructure our federation”.
Nwodo feared that “our country is failing. You know we are in a terrible recession now and that recession is bound to go on because the ingredients that will turn us around are structurally disadvantaged from taking possession of the driving seat of the economy. And so when we talk about restructuring, it is not a South East agenda; it is a condition precedent for the survival of this country”.
Therefore, underscoring the need and urgency for restructuring, the former minister insisted that “There is no federation in the world that works the way our own works. In the political ichnography dictionary, the word, ‘federation’ is a union of independent federating units which have donated some of their powers to a central structure. But what we have in the name of a federation in Nigeria is a strong central government that donates certain powers, very little powers, to the federating units. That is a misnomer. It is neither our history, it is neither our agreement; and the constitution is one imposed on us by a military administration. It is not autochthonous. There was no referendum for it; it was never approved. We are living on a quicksand.
“Restructure Nigeria and let’s go back to the arrangement that we had at independence. Let the states and the regions have sovereignty over their natural resources. Let them control education, let them control development of infrastructure and leave the power of external relations, external defence, immigration, customs, to the federal government and let the regions compete. And we won’t need the presidency of Nigeria in such a case”.
He regretted that “Since the history of this country, the South East has headed Nigeria only once. Dr. Azikiwe was a ceremonial president; the real power resided in the prime minister. It was only the military government of Aguiyi Ironsi that gave the South East any access to executive political power and it was very short-lived; and his life ended in very disastrous circumstances which compromised national unity which I don’t want to go into”.
Justifying his call for an affirmative action, he went down memory lane, noting that “We did it when (late M.K.O.) Abiola won election and was deprived of assuming power. Even the current government had to make a public apology on behalf of the country post-humously to Abiola. And for that reason, every opportunity was given to ensure that the major political parties nominated people from his area and that was how (former president Olusegun) Obasanjo emerged after defeating Olu Falae. Don’t change the goal post when it affects the South East. We have been cheated out of the governance of this country. The war is still on as far as the people of the South East are concerned. And the best thing is that we participate in the government of Nigeria; the constitution makes it imperative that we must participate. But we’ve been given tokenism.
“And in any case, the structure had been panel-beaten by the military administration that gave birth to our present political arrangement in a manner that gives us an undeserved minority and therefore unable to negotiate on any platform, be it a political party platform, or platform of the National Assembly, or the country as a whole. The statistics which I gave you of our habitation of the various parts of Nigeria belie what is donated to us as our population in Nigeria”.