Former Imo State governor, Chief Achike Udenwa has called on the Igbo to hold their peace as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has not decided on where its presidential candidate will come from.
He, however, maintained that what the Igbo and other ethnic nationality needs at the moment is restructuring more than the presidency. He noted that the 2023 elections would be of no effect without restructuring.
His told SATURDAY SUN: “It is useless having an election again in this country without first restructuring the country. What do you want to achieve if you cede the presidency to the Igbo? What do the Igbo want to achieve with the president without restructuring? Let us all insist on restructuring before elections.”
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the former governor, a member of the PDP Board of Trustee wondered why bandits were not declared terrorists while members of a group like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) are being hunted by the security agencies.
What is the solution to the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria?
Restructure this country and let us have a working federalism. That is what we think will solve most of our problems. The way the Federal Government is not taking the restructuring thing very seriously is winning over a lot of people towards IPOB. The best we can do is to restructure this country. I have said it in an earlier interview that restructuring this country is honestly a win-win situation for everybody. Nigeria will wake up economically, socially. But as long as we continue operating this unitary government in the name of a Federal Government it will never work; you cannot run a unitary government in a multi linguistic society like ours, in a multi cultural society like ours. The presidential system, being a winner takes it, any of the tribes that grabs power poses a danger to the other tribes and that is why we are saying loosen it; let us go back to true federalism. This was what Aburi Accord was all about. If the Aburi agreement had been implemented at the time, perhaps there wouldn’t have been a civil war; perhaps we wouldn’t have been where we are today, economically, socially and otherwise. The in-fighting, strife, suppressions, the insecurity would never have been in this country today. We still have an opportunity to correct that mistake; let us restructure now. There should be no 2023 elections without restructuring. It is useless having an election again in this country without first restructuring the country. What do you want to achieve if you cede the presidency to the Igbo? What do the Igbo want to achieve with the president without restructuring? Let us all insist on restructuring before elections. We have two years to the elections; we can restructure within two years. Restructuring to a large extent means rearranging the legislative list. It is not a very difficult thing; get a new constitution, talk of fiscal federalism. How do we share our resources; how do we contribute to the Federal Government? What are the powers in the Exclusive List, which are the powers in the Concurrent List and what are the Residual powers? If we want to rearrange these, it doesn’t need to take much time. The 2014 National Conference Report touches all these things. Even if you don’t like what they have done, take that document, you can set up a small committee to review their report. Everything we needed to do was contained in that report. We must have the will; what we are lacking is the will and as long as we lack the will even though we hold a hundred elections, it doesn’t take us anywhere. It doesn’t improve our welfare, it doesn’t improve our economy. Look at where we are today, look at our GDP, look at the inflation rate, look at the amount of debts we have. How can that economy ever rise under the existing circumstances? It is a very serious issue, and if we don’t attend to it, we cannot move a step further.
Do you think members of the National Assembly will support restructuring the way you are talking about it because most of them may be affected?
If they are representing us, they have to support it. It is not a personal thing we should be thinking about. To start with, the NASS is not just job for the boys; they are there for serious business. It doesn’t mean it is part of our solving the unemployment problem that if you are unemployed you go to the NASS. No, it is not that, it is a serious business. If at the end, the people agree that it will be a single legislative house, so be it. We adopted the presidential system, but unfortunately it is not exactly the way we thought. Unfortunately the cost of governance is way above our resources. So, can we not look at it and review it so that this country will survive; the country is going down very fast, no business is working. Insecurity has resulted that agriculture is no more there and until we are faced with famine before we know how serious it is. Most of our farmers don’t go to farms again. The Nigeria situation is very serious and the future is very bleak. We are borrowing money every day. Our debt stock today is not in line with our GDP. How much of our borrowing has gone into production; how much of that money has gone into critical infrastructure. How much of that borrowing has gone into creation of employment, provision of social services. These are the reasons why we must restructure to survive; if we don’t restructure we can’t survive.
What gave rise to this unimaginable spate of insecurity that has made sleeping with both eyes difficult?
The official explanations of why this is happening are not adding up. First and foremost, we learnt that a lot of people were brought into the country during the last elections and after the election, whatever that was promised to them was not fulfilled. That is part of the reason we have these herdsmen; among them are many foreigners from Niger, Mali, Chad, Senegal and the rest of them. But we know that before that, Boko Haram has been there.
I believe that this is part of the entire plan to re-colonise Nigeria; to overtake Nigeria and this is coming mainly from the Fulani. The Fulani are a big minority in Nigeria, but unfortunately they have been able to get other people to join them who are not real Fulani to tolerate them and they bring in religion into it. The issue now is not religion; I don’t know of any religion that says you must kill people. It is just part of Fulani intention to conquer Nigeria. This is the major issue. We are seeing a lot of these people coming from the Arab countries and Fulani settlements in West Africa. This means that if we don’t take time, before we know it, Nigeria will be overrun.
We have also seen that these people are aided by the security agencies. How would you explain to me that a herdsman is carrying AK-47rifle and I don’t hear of people being arrested? How did they get the guns? Who licensed them? Or are they not licensed? If they are not which means they are illegal arms. How did they get them? The whole situation is becoming more terrible every day; it is deteriorating every day. They are now everywhere in this country, which means if time is not taken, one day something very drastic will erupt in this country and we will have no answer to it.
How do we halt or arrest this situation?
The government has to be honest with its people. The government right now is not honest with us. If the government doesn’t want these people to come into the country; if the government doesn’t want these people to carry arms and move around unchecked (I don’t even hear them being arrested), then we are deceiving ourselves. It is not a question of what do we do; it is a question of, do we have the will to do what should be done? However, the government doesn’t have the will to do what should be done. What are all the security people there for?
We even hear of Sheikh Gumi having meetings with the bandits; if he could know where they are and have meetings with them, why is it that our security agencies don’t know where they are? You can’t convince any right thinking person that these people are just there on their own. That is where the situation calls for more in-depth appraisal and quick action. Otherwise if action is not taken quickly, Nigeria is gone.
The South-East was adjudged the most peaceful zone in the country, but recently, the security situation there has collapsed. Farmers say they are at the mercy of herdsmen, and the governors have jettisoned the regional security outfit they were planning. What is the way out?
This is a surprise to many of us because I remember last year I was part of the Ime Obi delegation of Ohanaeze sent to relay to the governors that the South-East should have a regional security outfit. Fortunately, the governors were in a meeting the same day in Enugu. After the Imo Obi meeting, the delegation moved to the Government House in Enugu and met with them. We told them point blank what the Ohanaeze has decided and said we should inform them to carry out the action because they hold the executive powers. We had a very useful meeting, almost all the prominent Igbo men were there. We left and a few days after that we were surprised to hear that what they were talking about now was Community Policing, after the visit of the IGP to Enugu. The governors are in a better position to know what the security situation in our region looks like. If in their own wisdom they accepted community policing, but today it is not even working and cannot be compared with a regional policing outfit just like you have in the Southwest. You can see what the Amotekun is doing in that region. Beside the Amotekun, maybe the herdsmen would have taken over the South-West by now. I don’t know what informed their rejecting the regional security outfit to accepting community policing.
Many South-Easterners say nature abhors a vacuum, that the inability of the governors to come up with a security outfit led the Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB to set up the Eastern Security Network (ESN). Right now, the South-East is bare, the police are running for their lives and famers can’t go to farm for fear of herdsmen. What is your position on the situation?
It is correct to say that nature abhors a vacuum. Whatever we say, the setting up of ESN is as a result of that vacuum, but that will not in anywhere legalise it. If the governors had set up ESN that would have been legal enough; it would have been able to carry on just like Amotekun is doing in the South-West. But this one set up by IPOB is still regarded as illegal and that is why the security agencies are fighting them. Yes, nature abhors a vacuum. Nobody will stay, fold his hands and watch his people being killed. After all, a man as high as General T. Y Danjuma, a former Chief of Army Staff and former Defence Minister told his people to arm themselves, that these herdsmen were being aided by security agencies and nobody has denied what he said. Yes, nature abhors a vacuum. I don’t know why our governors have insisted on not having a regional security system. As a result of that, IPOB set up theirs. I will say, nature abhors a vacuum and anybody who is doing anything in Nigeria today to secure himself, you will not blame him because the official security is not protecting him.
Shouldn’t the governors take it over and tailor it to suit the need of the region?
Taking over might not be the solution. But I don’t see what prevents the South-East governors from setting up their own. We cannot fold our hands and allow our people to be killed. There is no reason whatsoever that they shouldn’t have set up their own system, which was what Ohanaeze recommended. The regional security network is not to go and attack anybody. It is to defend the people in the absence of official defence from our security agencies. The Amotekun was well set up and we should have followed suit. But having failed to do so, the ESN sprang up. I don’t know how easy it is for the governors to take over ESN, knowing from where it came and remember that the Federal Government has already declared IPOB a terrorist group, which is debatable and which all of us know that it should not be because there are more terrorist organisations in Nigeria, and IPOB is not near them. Having IPOB as the sponsor of ESN, the governors will be reluctant to inherit it, but they could have set up their own.
Many are curious that the Federal Government that declared IPOB a terrorist organisation has yet to do same to bandits and herdsmen that have been classified as the fourth most dangerous group in the World Terrorist Index…
That is part of what I was saying. We all know that the real terrorist groups are the Fulani herdsmen – call them bandits or anything. In fact, we are hearing recently that even the ISIS is coming in. I read something today, I don’t know whether it is true or not that the American government is warning Nigeria that ISIS and their terror groups were moving down Southern Nigeria. These are the real terrorist groups. IPOB in the real sense should not be classified as terrorist group because you haven’t heard them going to attack any innocent people and they were not carrying arms. That is the irony; how could you declare them a terrorist group when you have not declared the ones that are carrying arms terrorist groups? Honestly, the situation in the country today baffles me.
In the PDP, Governor Bala Mohammed’s committee has recommended that the post of the president should not be zoned anywhere. What is the implication for the South-East, which supported the party believing that they will be rewarded and given the opportunity to present the presidential candidate?
Bala Mohammed committee report says it should be thrown open. This has not been accepted by the party. There are several organs of the party that the report has to go through. At least, I’m a member of the BoT. We had a meeting last week and we didn’t affirm that there should be rotation or no rotation. We have never taken any decision on that. It is just a recommendation; it is not yet a policy of the PDP. What the panel as looking at was the ability and under what condition PDP will be able to win. Is it by zoning or by throwing it open? That is what the committee must have considered to come up with its recommendation. But it is left for the several organs of the party to look at it and decide whether it is the right way to go or not.
The Igbo believe the neglect the South-East is experiencing today under APC government is because of its avid support for PDP, but if the party denies them what they have been hoping for, do you think that they will still give the party their support in 2023?
These are all subject to the dynamics of politics. The two major parties in Nigeria are APC and PDP. Has APC told you where they are zoning their own to? So, let’s wait and see how things unfold. It is not yet time to panic. A panel recommendation is not final. The party must also look at where their major opponents are.
I’m not too interested in the presidency as at now. I’m talking of restructuring. If we restructure then we can take up who becomes president. In fact, it becomes less material who becomes president. Where he comes from doesn’t matter any longer. The problem we are having is the present situation where the winner takes all; once you grab power at the federal level, it is for you and your people. If we restructure properly and the states get enough powers and we have just a tiny Exclusive List, it is then that people no more care where the president comes from. Let us restructure first, let the country stand firm and let power devolve to the states and the local governments. When we do that the centre becomes less attractive. What is causing this problem of where the presidency comes from or where he doesn’t come from is because of this present system. We have seen in this present government; a situation where the all powerful Security Council doesn’t have anybody from the South-East. These are the things we are talking of. All the big institutions are being manned by only people from one section of the country. This is where the conflict comes from, but by the time you restructure, most of those things become less important and you may not even be interested in where the president comes from.
The Igbo were crying that their zone was neglected in the railway line project. However, the federal government has included the zone but with a narrow gauge as against the standard gauge in other parts of the country. Is that what you bargained?
It is part of the marginalisation we have been talking about. You can see it was not based on commercial principles. Everybody knows that there is huge traffic on the Eastern part of the railway and it is a very lucrative line. Pure economic consideration has not been taken into account. This is part of what we have been talking about. If we restructure properly, why can’t a region decide on what they want and execute it as they have enough resources to do that? So, the Federal Government deciding on which road passes where and on which railway line passes where will not arise. Are we still talking of narrow gauge in 21st Century. One, it is very slow and it is used for crossing lines and not the major lines. And of course, it is no more in vogue in the whole world. Who told you that it will be constructed in the next 20 years? Where is the funding? All these make the country not workable; the Federal Government has too much load on itself, it doesn’t need to. In a federal set up, there is a lot of economic independent to a large extent by the federating units. It is not the other way round. It is just a dictatorship or unitary government that do such things. But this country is made up of federating units, made of so many linguistic units, so many cultural units.