— Chief Ralph Obioha is a Second Republic member of the House of Representatives and a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). In this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, he speaks on Nigeria’s 59th independence anniversary, call for restructuring of the country, early race for the 2023 presidency and political developments in Imo State, among other issues.
Every National Day in any nation should be a day of both celebration and reflection. Fifty-nine years ago, Nigerians joyously put on their best dresses to celebrate our independence from the colonial masters. It was a landmark event. No people who are held by another power that will not express happiness when they break the yoke of such superintendence. A lot of Nigerians who observed then and now have a mixture of both nostalgia of what happened then and a regret of what has become. But to get a clinical assessment; one must also look at a passage of hands.
In 1960, we had only four governments in Nigeria; the federal and three regional governments. Today we have 37 governments; a Federal Government and 36 states government. It is a big difference. It was done with a concept of fastening the progress and development in the various sectors, but that noble and progressive idea seems now to be a heavy weight on Nigeria’s resources in terms of multiplying the cost of running the structures of these 37 governments.
To put it in a very simple explanation; just consider where the present Western Nigeria that was a government is now structured into eight governments and those eight governments will have governors with all the apparatus of government, deputy governors, Houses of Assembly with speakers, commissioners and others. The cost of running the former Western Nigeria in this new structure of eight governments is putting up a strain on the resources that is not abundance for Nigeria.
In the case of the former Eastern Nigeria, we are talking of about 10 governments. So, when you put all these things into consideration, you will begin to realise that what we then thought was going to fasten development, had turn out to actually be our albatross.
Nigeria had great prospect at independence, but today, the story is that of dashed hope. What do you think went wrong?
The present agitation for regional arrangement is because people have sat down and realised the point I was making that over-governance instead of been what we planned it to be, which was maybe important to increase the volume of inclusiveness, has now become something that we may have to reconsider. People talk about it only in the view of development; they will be missing the point if they don’t focus on the need to let people develop at their own pace. They would be missing the essence of what actually a nation connotes. A nation is a unit of one and to believe that one sector could have developed the other would again be creating a problem that may definitely rear up in future.
I have always said that if you if we have good governance at the head; and it is not far fetch to have a good governance and that good governance has to translate into Nigerians looking out for her best. And that her best is not restricted to any one section, region or tribe. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the best can come from one particular part of Nigeria. We should have a nation where the essence is for us to look out for the best and we have a structured system that has a policy that can accommodate everybody. What we have being doing in the past is that power was concentrated on government than actually the critical and greater number of people. Poor planning and execution of policies by successive governments has really affected the people who are the true builders of a nation. Nation building is not necessarily restricted to government officials; the engine of that building emanates from the activities of the greater public participation.
Government doesn’t run factories. Government does not organise activities of production, government is just to maintain regulations, policy and for supervision and to actually create taxes that maintains the police, army and foreign affairs. Government has no business in running school, which the Federal Government dabble into with state governments. Government has no business in many things they actually got themselves into like health, industry. The point I am trying to make is that the problem we have in Nigeria is the expansion of governance; expansion of the apparatus of governance. And until we get back to how to say let us look at this thing again and see if regional government worked in the past, can’t we for goodness sake returned to it.
Are you suggesting that Nigeria should return to regional government?
Yes! Regional in the sense that if it is not intended for any superiority or outpacing the others, but to get a system that is better. We have over-government in Nigeria today and I have illustrated it. Nigeria worked better when we had three regions and one federal government. It is not working better now that we have 36 governments and one federal government.
Yes, there are inequalities in the discharge of what government should do to its citizens; if you look at our security structure where only one part of the country is heading the entire security apparatus of the government. If anybody is telling you that something is not wrong with that, the person probably belongs to the part that is enjoying that predominant of those positions.
Do you think regional government will work in Nigeria of today considering ethnic considerations and the fact that Nigeria seems to be more divided today than in the past?
The issue about the division in Nigeria is generated by what you raised as the problems of ethnicity. I for example, the moment there is an announcement of personnel to man any government agencies, my eyes go nearly to how many Igbo are in that cabinet or list? And I know that it happens to every Nigerian. It shows more now because opportunities are not in other sectors. Everybody now believes that it is government positions where the cream is. Before people who were busy in cocoa, palm oil and groundnut productions were not interested.
As a matter of fact, prominent men in Nigeria were not the names of those who were in government; it was the names of those who were in production. That has all disappeared. We are divided deeply now as a country; very deeply divided and let nobody made any mistake about it. It is because we have a system where everybody is not treated equally.
How can we get that system where everybody will be treated equally?
How we can get that system back actually rests on leadership. When President Muhammadu Buhari was first inaugurated on May 29, 2015, one of the most overridden statements he made was that he belongs to nobody and that he belongs to all. It was a classic profound statement that kind of overnight made Nigerians to say we now have a leader. Subsequently after that, his countenance and behaviour seemed to have change. That again has deepened the division in Nigeria. I grew up in Nigeria, where we don’t have all these kind of divisions. Why can’t we return to that?
Also, the social media has helped to deepen this division. The truth of the matter is that half of what is posted on social media is false and most of them have heightened that suspicion between tribes. The division between many ethnic groups today was not so visible yesteryears because of the kind of leaders we had. Take Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe for example, the composition of the ministers in the Eastern Nigeria were very well spread and that was also the case in the Western Region. Everybody was accommodated, so sense of belonging was there.
People didn’t know that during Azikiwe’s time, the Igbo were not so much interested in ministerial appointments or government offices; they were more interested in business that the majority of civil service positions in Eastern Region were occupied by people, who were from outside the Igbo enclave of Eastern Nigeria. So, we should concentrate on building our country. Nigerians demonstrate that we can be one with our enthusiasm whenever the country is playing any international football match. You see people glue to the televisions and they will praise any of the players that excel without minding where the persons come from.
How do you think we can get the leader ship that will correct these anomalies?
It has happened before in the past; it can happen again by our getting together as Nigerians at the table of dialogue to discuss our fears; how do we resolve them and how do we go through intervals of testing?
We can have collegiate leadership like what they did in Switzerland where there were so many sections like Italians, Swiss and Germans and they set up a system where the presidency is rotated among six of the regions on yearly basis.
Talking about a roundtable, there have been several national conferences in Nigeria, but the reports of such conferences were never implemented…
That is part of the problems I have been raising. Everybody looks at who set up a conference. The 2014 Conference was acclaimed to have been really deep and result oriented; it is the implementation that is yet to be carried out. We can even start with that and dust it up by looking at the merits and demerits of it. I am not saying that there has to be a fresh conference; let that one be dusted up and reviewed. We don’t need to call up a big assemblage of people for the review. We can ask each of the states bring maybe about 10 people.
We are now talking about 360 people or even less than the number to review the reports and see where some adjustments have to be made because it is dangerous for us to pretend that we are going somewhere with what is developing in Nigeria.
You talked about rotational presidency among the six geo-political zones in Nigeria. Do you think that is possible considering how the country has been governed in the past?
If we go back to the report of the 2014 Conference, this particular issue leadership was discussed. For us to build a nation, we must all try to develop what will make us to be in love with our nation. If America in her greatness was able to allow a black man to be president, we can see that it uprooted the deep racism that was in America.
They have overcome it, so Nigeria can also overcome it.
What is happening now didn’t happen in 1960. All Nigerians put their hands together to wrestle power for from the British colonialists. It can happen again. I used football games in today’s Nigeria to demonstrate how patriotic and united Nigerians can be. More than three years to the 2023 presidential election, there is debate over which of the zones will produce the next president.
What is your take on the jostle between the North and South over who produces President Buhari’s successor?
So far, there has been a kind of rotation of the presidency in Nigeria. If after the North has done eight years and we have some ambitious northerners, who are conjuring some sentiments and logic to say that they want to do another term, it goes again to widen the division in the country. It is only shortsighted minds, who would be thinking and talking in that direction. Rotation of power is already a convention; there is no law that stipulates it. So, for anybody to start twisting or trying to rejig it, means creating more disaffections and more division.
So you believe that the 2023 presidency should go to the South?
But, some people in the North are saying that they should be allowed to produce the next president to equal the 14 years the South have had in the current Fourth Republic…
There is nothing that says that the arrangement was not in place. An accident happened and actually when Goodluck Jonathan wanted to twist it, many of us resisted it and said no; that it would unbalance what has been the case. The four years that was given to him after the demise of President Umaru Yar’Adua was providential.
Having gotten over that, any attempt try to make logic that changes the equation may again be stretching an already divided nation.
Talking about the South, there is even division between the South-West and South-East over which zone should produce the president in 2023…
Equity is not farfetched. If you bring head of government back to the South, it is the South-East that should produce the next president if we say we are one nation.
I hail from the South-East, but I have said it in public discourse that we must change our pattern of approaching other Nigerians. I am very vocal about that because the first act of leadership is confidence building.
You do not scream it from the rooftop; you have to work for it. You must tell the person you want to work with that his interest would be protected.
The South-East person who may emerge must also give the North an assurance that everybody in Nigeria would be accommodated as a Nigerian.
The moment that sense cements, Nigeria as a whole will look for the best to manage the country. It is getting more complicated every day; People do not know that we have not build anything in Nigeria and resources are diminishing by the day. With all the West is doing about electric cars, the main source of our income may become worthless in the next 10 years and that is when Nigerians will know what poverty is.
But some South-East leaders have repeatedly said that the presidency of Nigeria is not their concern and they seem not to be battling for the 2023 presidency like other geo-political zones are currently doing?
It is because they feel that they are disadvantaged. If we are to tell ourselves the truth, they are at disadvantage.
Look at even the creation of states; it is one of the open wounds in Nigeria that the South-East is restricted to only five states because the people who created states, which was during the military regime, were mostly northerners. If the Igbo were at the helms of affairs, they may have created an invisible imbalance. That open wound, only the truth can heal it.
How can truth heal the wound?
How it can heal it is that if the president takes it up as a project. It is a constitutional amendment issue and the consent of two-third of Nigerians has to be enquired. But if the president takes it as a project that he wants to heal the wound, he can do it by moving the machinery of government to meet that requirement. He seems unwilling to do that because he has not seen it as something of benefit, but he has failed to realise that such can give him faithful followers as well as earn him an enduring legacy and reputation.
What is your take on the political drama in your state over the war of attrition between Governor Emeka Ihedioha and his predecessor, Senator Rochas Okorocha?
No Nigerian is unaware of what Rochas Okorocha did to that state. Everybody is aware of it that this man called Rochas Okorocha squandered the resources of the state on himself and followers. I am still perplexed that Ihedioha didn’t face the issue of Okorocha as number one priority in order to get back for the state what has been visibly stolen from the state’s coffers and treasury by one man.
This delay may become what would sink him. Because he had an opportunity to inaugurate the State House of Assembly and get the House to start passing laws that will help in recovering the visible assets of the state that one man converted to himself. So many things are now happening that deep thinkers will say, we will see it that Rochas has been saved and may actually in future retain that. First, a federal agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has moved to confiscate some of this assets and it will go into litigation, while the state House of Assembly could have passed laws to get back what belongs to the state and gazette it as state properties.
The implication of what is happening in Imo today is that day-by-day, Rochas is being embolden to challenge a constituted authority.
The properties that belong to Imo people are now a quasi-property of the Federal Government through the instrumentality of EFCC. They are not even addressing their minds to that. Having said this much, it is not all lost because the impunity of Rochas has so much affected every Imolite that every day they are losing faith in governance as a whole.
And of course, there is now an uncertainty hanging on the entire issue in Imo State where all kinds of candidates are challenging the election of Ihedioha.
I believe it is their constitutional rights to challenge the governor since they felt that the election was not properly done, but all I am pleading with the judiciary is to please dispense justice as quickly as possible. If a rerun is mounted in Imo State today, Ihedioha’s votes would be at least three times the number he got in the last governorship election.
But again, the time that should be used to start correcting the abnormally and the misadministration that was perpetrated in Imo State by Rochas would be prolonged and time is not a luxury because what you delay in a day could actually affect the progress of what you should have done.
Many Nigerians are of the view that past governors failed to meet public expectation in term of performance…
Because they have set up a system where there is a very little accountability built into it. In other climes, you cannot do it.
Let us make certain admissions in Nigeria’s situation. The police don’t exist anymore in Nigeria and the cases of impunity, corruption and abuses perpetrated by police in Nigeria are all over the place. For a start, one quarter of the Nigerian Police Force is attached to people called VIP (Very Important Personalities); private citizens who are not in government. Then the ones that are left out are the rejects in the force; who mount road blocks all over Eastern Nigeria, extorting money.
Then EFCC that is an agency structured for a particular assignment has now dabbled into police work. Today, EFCC also goes into settling family disputes. People are asking why Nigeria not working.
The country is not working because there are so much convoluted conflicts, even in the structures of the state. Everybody is conflicted in Nigeria today. So, you wake up in the morning and pray that the night comes with a certain level of safety. There is insecurity and division. I am afraid if the weight of these will allow Nigeria to survive.
Culled from Newtelegraph.