Former Minister of Health and one time Special Adviser on Political Affairs to President Olysegun Obasanjo, Prof. ABC Nwosu is never afraid to express his views on critical national issues. As a member of the Committee on Devolution of Power during the 2014 National Conference, Nwosu was very resourceful and often provided the buffer between the radical agitations of the South and the vehement opposition of the North particularly on the issues of ownership of mineral resources, derivation principle and resource control. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, he speaks again on the trajectory of the Nigerian state and the imperatives of restructuring the country
What are your impressions of the state of the nation today?
It’s rather confusing; I am confused about Nigeria. We take one step forward and we take 30 steps backward. We’re not building a nation, we’re still just a country.
Peter Pan, in his book, “How to be a Nigerian,” said that the search for the Nigerian is still in progress. I believe it is. He said that meanwhile, we have Igbos, Fulanis, Hauses, Yorubas, Ijaws, Ibibios , etc. I believe him. This has been very much pronounced in the last three and a half years.
There is no nation called Nigeria where you have people acting as if you have a common destiny and equal opportunities. A friend of mine says that we have different destinies or disputed destinies. So, the state of the nation is rather confusing and for somebody like me who was already in secondary school by the time Nigeria got her independence, this isn’t the country we were looking forward to in 1960.
If you read Chinua Achebe’s “What Nigeria Means to Me,” he says Nigeria is like an acquired taste to the people of his generation . It is so to even those of us below his generation because we grew up as British citizens, marking Empire Day and we sought for independence with high hopes. After independence, we had jobs and Nigerians were prepared to go anywhere and invest anywhere in the country.
They were prepared to live and play their roles anywhere without hindrance. Igbos moved out to live and work in Lagos, Gusau, Kano, Kaduna, Jos and other parts of Nigeria That’s not the situation now.
Today, you’re made to know acutely that you’re Igbo and that something like Nigerian does not exist.You’re made to understand that you are in a stranger- country because you’re not in your Igboland. That is not the country that I grew up and walked four miles to the local government headquarters where my secondary school, Government College, Afikpo, was situated to see the Union Jack lowered in 1963.
How can we return to that old Nigeria of your dreams?
We must do something very drastic about this country. That thing we must do is called restructuring and it simply means devolving more powers from the centre to the federating units of the country. We need to devolve more powers, more money and more responsibilities to the federating units.
The institutions for nation building already exist in Nigeria but we need to strengthen them.
Otherwise, we are heading for problems. The book I’m reading which you can see by my side is called, “Why Nations Fail”, written by two young people, one of them, a 40-year-old Economist at Massachussets Institute of Technology(MIT) and the other one is from Havard (both in the US). You have acknowledgements from four Nobel Laureates.
I think the leadership in Nigeria now should read that book published in 2013. It would help them to retrace their steps before it is too late.
Is it lack of restructuring that is responsible for all the challenges we face in Nigeria?
Yes Yes. Yes. I have answered you three times for emphasis. All those who talk about good governance as the panacea to our problems are missing the point. Some young boys that are so excited about new knowledge and want to be sophisticated, say it is digital thinking. What is digital thinking? Our problem is over-centralisation of everything.
Take No: 39 on the Exclusive List, the Federal Government has powers over mines and minerals, whether solid, gaseous or liquid, all over the country. What amount of good governance can you apply to the fact that somebody has been given an oil field in Bahamas State without the consent of the owners of the land? Nobody knew there was oil there.
Bayelsa were farming there and suddenly, they wake up one morning and they are some people from Abuja or any other part of Nigeria with some Europeans drilling in your grandfather’s farmland. What can you do? The Federal Government has the power to do that and we are saying, devolve that power. At least, before you give out that oil bloc, the state government, the local government and the people have a right to know.
Before independence, the principle was that whatever is on top or below anybody’s land belongs to him and it would be shared as follows: 50 percent of the proceeds will be retained by the ownership which is the region or state.
Out of the remaining 50 percent, 30 percent will be sent to the distributable pool called Federation Account and the balance 20 percent will go to the Federal Government. It was a Commission set up by the Colonial Office that developed that sharing model called the Raissman Formula.
This was what we were using all through the Colonial period and even at independence. It got changed when Nigeria, under the Federal Military Government, needed all the money in order to fight and defeat Biafra.
The war ended in 1970 but since then, nobody is keen again on reversing that obnoxious law. The circumstances that made the Federal Government to seize the resources of the region are no more and Nigeria ought to have reverted to the old order before the civil war. This is just one simple case.
You’ve described this as a simple case but why do you think the concept of restructuring is still being opposed by certain people in Nigeria?
There are three reasons. First, they claim that they don’t understand restructuring and what you don’t understand, you don’t really accept. But when they do the arithmetic of restructuring, they will find that there is nothing harmful about restructuring. Take the issue of petroleum and the fear of some people that oil resources will no longer be available to them if we restructure. Oil revenue will not dry out just like that because the South South people are not unreasonable.
It has been a very accommodating zone and I am sure that it can still accommodate Nigeria for another 10 years. The oil reserves we have will not dry out in 10 years. Presently, the oil producing states are getting 13 percent and if I may play the devil’s advocate, what if we establish the principle that 50 percent belongs to derivation? Twenty five percent of it which is almost double of what they are getting today will be given to them but the other twenty five percent will not be shared.
It will be used to develop the solid minerals which are abundant across the country. It will be a Venture Capital Fund. These solid minerals have much more value then even the petroleum we are relying upon today. It was proposed at the last National Conference in 2014. Look at the people caught with gold from Zamfara; that is Nigeria’s money. The iron ore in Nigeria has so much value almost equivalent to oil. Nigeria is a bigger gas producer than the oil that we all know.
Look at the huge deposits of bitumen which hasn’t been tapped.
When all these resources are developed, the area from where it is developed will get the same 25 percent and ploughs in the other 25 percent into developing more solid minerals in the country. So I think it is ignorance that makes some people to oppose restructuring. They haven’t done the arithmetic to see that nobody will be disadvantaged in a restructured Nigeria. Everybody will become richer.
The second reason is that if you look at the oil revenue which is our mainstay, a certain region benefits more than the others from the resource. Every month, we gather in Abuja to share revenue from the Federation Account which is largely from oil, Customs, Value Added Tax (VAT), etc.
The sharing formula is based on the number of states and number of local government areas. So you can see that the North with preponderance of states and local governments gets a lion share. On the other hand, those who contribute most of these revenue are shortchanged. Instead of accepting restructuring which will mean that the North might even bring more to the sharing table than the South, but some people are saying, well we don’t want to lose this advantage. This advantage is not a fair advantage. It is not a moral advantage. So those who are being unreasonable would say let’s persist in it.
They will persist on it until those who own these resources and have been giving it out to the rest of the country refuse to give it any longer. At that time, those who don’t want restructuring now would not be in a position to enforce that obnoxious law. It will get worse. They will then restructure it and keep the resources without you having any input because you cannot force them. So that’s why it is good to do it now.
The third one. It is what is responsible for the do or die nature of our elections. Everybody wants to be president; everybody wants his brother to be president; everybody wants his region to produce the President and every zone wants to produce the President because there is do much at the centre to share.
If it becomes as it was at independence, you might find that the competition for the office of the President. At independence, the most powerful politician, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello did not go to Lagos; he sent his deputy.
So when people talk of restructuring it is simply giving those things which are better managed by the States to the states and giving them the money to manage them. It also means making the laws to permit them to take up these responsibilities. If we restructure Nigeria, it woukd give rise to a healthy competition among the various regions. If you chase me out of your place, you will be the loser because you will become poorer for it.
How can we achieve restructuring given the opposition mounted against it by some Nigerians?
It is easy. You know, that is why I supported fully, the ticket of former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi during the last election. I was a member of Ohaneze that endorsed him. I was a member of the etnic nationalities that endorsed him and you must have noticed that the single reason was that his views on restructuring were clear and he was sincere.
I am hearing that it is also the season that many people in the North did not support him it’s a pity because he meant well and in due time, the North will find that it will not be poorer for devolution of power.
I will give you a simple example nthe with the police. What is happening in Zamfara now and what has happened in Borno, would not have happened if we had state police. The will not happen if we had strong state police.
When Boko Haram was beginning in Borno, the governor, Shettima delighted in running to Abuja to see Jonathan and to blame Jonathan. Everybody was making a mockery of Mrs. Jonathan for saying: There is God.
But if Shettima had Borno State Police Command where he is in charge, he would just have come here to see how he can be helped, not how Jonathan can solve all his problems. He cannot be indifferent; he would be in the war front fighting it. That is why state police is not just essential but critical to the security of our country. Without state police, you cannot guarrantee security in Nigeria
You canvassed similar ideas during the 2014 National Conference. How come the agitation has continued till now?
I was in the Committee on Devolution of Powers at the 2014 National Conference. Our Chairmen were the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah and Ibrahim Coomasie, former Inspector General of Police.The issue of state police was exhaustively debated and everybody saw that it was the right way to go if we must curb the rising insecurity across the country.
So, I don’t know what anyody has against state police. I am not even citing America because everybody knows about the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), New York Police Department (NYPD) and the rest of them. But the simple fact the Native Authority Police began before Nigeria Police even in northern Nigeria. Now when you talk of state police, everybody is so terrified.
The reason is simple. You set up Nigerian institutions and you populate them with people who don’t know the ground. The Commissioner of Police in Zamfara State is an Igbo man. What does he know about the terrain or the religion of the people there? The Commissioner of Police in Borno State is an Igbo man. The Commissioners of Police down in Anambra and other state in the South East are Hausa/Fulani people. It doesn’t make sense. Put people who know the community, who know the terrain, who know the problem and who can get inside the communities to know what is really happening. This is what we are saying.
Restructuring is a simple thing. It is known in the churches. They call it the principle of subsidiarity. The Archbishop and Bishops are there but the Parish Priest in a remote village is responsible for births, deaths, marriages, baptism, etc. He doesn’t cone to take permission from the Bishop before doing these basic things in his church. This is what we practice and it works.
But when it comes to the governance of Nigeria, we pack all responsibilities in the Federal Government; pack all the money in the Federal Government and steal all the money in the Federal Government. They don’t see that restructuring will greatly reduce corruption in the system.
While we are still debating restructuring, insecurity is spreading at an alarming rate across Nigeria. What do you think we can do in the immediate to stem the tide?
Insecurity is a highly sophisticated field. The government has security agencies that should advise it and I will leave that to them. They are the experts. All I want to say is that it is clear that the government is not happy about the rising insecurity. If the government is dispatching the Nigeria Air Force to Zamfara and despatching the Inspector General of Police to deal with kidnapping on the Abuja/Kaduna highway, that shows they are not happy with it. But whether they are applying the right remedies to the malady is a different issue.
What is your assessment of the just concluded 2019 General Elections?
It was a disgrace. It’s the worst election that has been in Nigeria to my memory. I was in secondary school when the 1959 elections held and I witnessed all the other elections including those that created problems that led to military coups. It is the worst. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should hide his face in shame. How can you have a general election on February 23 and you quickly got out the results and again another election two weeks later in March and until this April, you are still collating the results? How do you explain the occurence of so many inconclusive elections? I don’t even know where he got that phrase, “inconclusive election” from. It is disgraceful.I don’t want want to say anything further. It is instructive that even before the election, people like me and the PDP kept saying that we had absolutely no confidence in INEC under its current Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu.
What specific feature of the election did you find disgraceful?
Take the card reader for instance, it was clear in the presidential elections that we had two countries. One country down- South where card readers were used and another country, up- North where card readers were not used for the same election. I don’t know how they proceeded with the exercise in that manner and expected reasonable Nigerians to take them seriously. I am happy the INEC Chairman is a Professor of History and it makes sense to him that Borno State with its insurgency problem that has raged for years, could poll almost 900, 000 votes while Anambra State which had no crisis couldn’t turn out such a figure.
I know Gamborou Ngala very well. I know Baga, Numan and all these other places very well. I did the research on water borne diseases in the South Chad Irrigation Programme, so I know the area. The Governor of Borno State (Shettima) and his convoy were attacked and some persons were killed in Gamborou Ngala during the campaigns. Shettima vowed to go back there even at the cost of his life, which meant that he knew it was a dangerous terrain and wasn’t safe. But during the election, everything was safe and they turned out such large numbers. The same thing occurred in Yobe State. It would be on their conscience but they should not take it that they fooled us. I am ashamed that a professor did not see the illogic in it.
We had many professors who took part in this election and many Nigerians have expressed concerns about the conduct of these men from the ivory towers. What is your assessment of the role played by these academics in the elections?
I don’t know. You’re first an individual before you are awarded a degree and if you are lucky you attend a good institution before you are awarded a doctorate. In fact in Nigeria, many of the professors don’t even have doctorate degrees. If you ask, they are quick to point out that Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe don’t have doctorate degrees; but that’s irrelevant.
It is only in Nigeria that I see people write PhD with putting in bracket, the awarding university. Someone has a PhD but whether he got it from Jankara or Oluwole, nobody knows. If you’re proud of your PhD, you include the awarding body. When I give you my card, you will find written on it, PhD (London)DIc , which means I went to Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London.
The results of the presidential election is now a subject of controversy as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Atiku Abubakar is challenging it at the Election Tribunal. Do you think your party stands a chance of obtaining justice at the court?
I think that the significant thing was that Atiku went to court and God bless him for going to court. Most people support him for going to court. I, in particular support him one thousand percent for going to court. It will illuminate what happened; it will enrich Nigeria’s electoral process and it will teach the INEC that it cannot just do anything and get away with it. Many people have been commenting on this matter but one of those that I find particularly ludicrous was Barrister Festus Keyamo (SAN), petitioning the Inspector General of Police and Director General of Department of State Security to go and investigate Atiku and the PDP on how they obtained the alternate result of the election.
I keep asking, what is the purpose of such a petition? Suppose they investigate it and they find out that the information that the PDP brought is true? I will leave it at that because the matter is sibjudice.
What is your view on the current tussle for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly?
The majority party has the right to give indications as to who it would like to be the leader of either chambers of the National Assembly. In other words, the majority party has a right to ask its members to support a candidate whom they think could help them realise the goals of their manifesto.
But the legislature is an independent arm of the government. In fact it is the most important arm of government in a democracy. If you talk of checks and balances, so that you don’t have tyranny, the legislature holds the key So the legislators have the responsibility to make sure that Nigeria does not slide into tyranny. In all that they have to do, they have a duty to Nigerians to make sure that the executive does not turn into a dictatorship and emasculate the entire National Assembly.
There are fears in the opposition that the majority party could abuse this advantage if nobody checkmates it. Do you agree?
The opposition doesnt really have fears. I am a member of the PDP and we are not afraid because it is not really so much an issue. All we want is for them to get to their business and for us to get to our own business too. We have a collective responsibility to Nigerians to make laws for the good governance of The country and hold the executive arm of government accountable. The Nigerian business must not suffer because the majority party is unable to put its house in order. The Nigerian business suffered in 2015 because they were not able to get into their business in the parliament and they were not able to get into their business in appointing ministers on time.
Of course it is the duty of the opposition to exploit the situation where you find that the government wants to slide into inactivity or confusion.
The political permutations for 2023 have already begun and some politicians of northern extraction have said that they would rather have power retained in the North after Buhari’s tenure. Where does this postulation leave the South East region?
The South East has always had a clear agenda. If you look at what happened in the South East during the last election, you will understand where we stand in the politics of Nigeria. I have never seen the kind of turnout we had at the last presidential election in the South East. If the results were announced as the people voted, you would have been shocked that the APC would not have gotten up to five percent of votes in the South East. The numbers would have been overwhelming and everybody knows that if you do this election a 100 times, the South East will vote the same way.
What people don’t understand is that during elections, people vote according to their fears and according to their hopes. Ndigbo fear President Muhammadu Buhari. It does not matter what those around him, serving him and benefiting from him tell him.
Ndigbo have a serious and morbid fear of President Buhari that he doesn’t like them. They have ample evidence that he doesn’t like them. One clear evidence is the exclusion of the South East from the National Security Council and telling them it’s based on merit.
The Igbo know that he doesn’t like them and why I am not bothered is that the Igbo don’t also like him. So the feeling is mutual. It is one, one as they say it in Igbo. We are not angry with him for not liking us because we don’t also like him.
But what are our hopes that we voted for? Our most important hope was that Nigeria will be restructured, the revenue formulae will be restructured, the Federal Allocation will be restructured in favour of the federating units, there would be state police, there would ve state prisons and each zone would develop according to it capability.
For those of us in the South East, communities can rise again once more and begin to develop their secondary schools and develop their hospitals when they come home for Christmas. That was our hope. This hope cannot be realised with Buhari as the Head of State. Atiku was very clear on restructuring and that became our hope. So we voted for our hopes and voted against our fears.
Let APC stop looking for whom to appoint minister in the South East because it does not change anything. If you like appoint Nnia Nwodo as minister; if you like appoint Peter Obi as minister; if you like appoint ABC Nwosu as minister and if we accept, it might be because the rain has beaten us too much and we want to start having something to dry our bodies. But once we join the government, the Igbos will completely leave us and continue going on their own direction, which is that they want restructuring.
You mean , you’re not bothered about the much talked about Igbo Presidency not being achieved in 2023?
No. In fact the amusing thing is that we are watching our brothers, the Yoruba. May God bless people like Ayo Adebanjo, Femi Okuruomu, Yinka Odumakin and other chieftains of Afenifere. As they said yesterday, it’s restructuring, it’s the same they are saying today.
The one that baffles me is the Vice President (Osinbajo) who is a Professor of Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He is a lawyer and he keeps talking from all sides of the mouth. I don’t know what power does to people but it doesn’t make sense to me.
People have characterised his speeches as sleaze speeches. We don’t understand why a people who thought injustice was injustice on June 12 are behaving the way they are behaving now. We don’t understand why a people who thought injustice was injustice in 1965 election and the events that followed in 1966, are behaving this way today. But like I said earlier, we thank God for people like Ayo Adebanjo and the others in the Afenifere. We’re watching to see what will happen in 2023.
In fact, it would be interesting if Bola Tinubu becomes President in 2023. We will see how he will restructure the country.
But for the Igbo, no shaking. Like I said, you can take the Presidency and dash it to a Chadian or a Nigerien, but without restructuring, any Igbo who is aspiring to be President is sick.
Under this kind of scenario, do you think we can still sustain this One Nigeria mantra in some years to come?
The only thing that is settled is One Nigeria. Along the length and breadth of Nigeria, If you do a referendum, I can tell you that 90 percent of Nigerians will vote that it is better to remain under the country called Nigeria than not. What is the problem and has been the problem is how to turn that country (Nigeria) into a nation. Nigeria as a country is different from Nigeria as a nation. We must begin to think of Nigeria as a nation. That is the challenge. When people say they are fighting for the unity of this country, I say bunkum.
In 1970, what happened? Some of us where officers in the Biafran Army but once the war ended, we all went back to the university. We wore our ranks to school. We graduated in Nigeria. The University of Nigeria had been renamed University of Biafra in 1967. But at the end of the war who prompted us, who bullied us to change the name? We on our own changed it back to University of Nigeria I refused to go back to the University of Ibadan from which I fled at the beginning of the war. We graduated from the University of Nigeria. The then Head of State gave us enough money to feed continually but we didn’t have beds and some of us slept on mats. We were sitting on blocks while studying until the great Ogbemudia brought us desks. Ogbemudia was Nigeria.
Ochefu was a great governor.
Nigerians made us welcome. The issue of unity, when some people raise it now, it is just because they want to do something funny underneath.
The unity is settled. What is remaining is that we want a Nigeria that works equally for the Fulani , Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Tiv, Ibibio and all other tribes in Nigeria. This is what we want. What we have now is a Nigeria that works for some people and doesn’t work for some people.
It’s a very simple thing. But as for breaking Nigeria, that is what people say when they want to fund people to go and do Operation Python Dance. Money is being spent unecessarily.
There is nobody who wants to break this country again. I can tell you that when we fought in the Biafran Army, we were not conscripted. In fact, no Igbo man ran away from that war because if you didn’t take part, then you were not a man. But as soon as the fight ended what did the Igbo man say? Happy Survival. Then we went back to Nigeria. The duty of Nigeria is to create a nation that works for all of us. If people can’t do it, let them stop drawing red herrings
What’s your opinion on the recent resignation of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen after a long drawn battle over asset declaration?
Very sad. I am very sad for this country. The Igbo say that a big animal like the lion is not toasted like a rat. That what happened to Onnoghen, could happen to Onnoghen is very sad given the circumstances- a petition, an arraignment and everything that followed. It is very sad for the head of the Judiciary. No Nigerian should derive any satisfaction from it at all. When you castrate an arm of the government , you weaken democracy. We should be thinking of strengthening our democracy and not weakening it.
President Buhari has a second term mandate. What would you like him to do with this fresh mandate?
If I have ideas, I will not give him. It is not the duty of the opposition to advise government on what to do. The government said it could do it and they have gotten the mandate. So let the work begin.
In the first tenure, It set up a fight against insecurity, it is still an unfinished business. It set up an anti-corruption war, it is still an unfinished business. It set up the Economic Recovery Programme, the economy is still in bad shape. Let him continue. He set for himself an agenda and he has a responsibility to fulfill his promises to Nigerians. My preoccupation now is helping to firm up the Igbo agenda
What’s the mood after the election?
There is a general feeling of alienation in igboland. They don’t care who you appoint ministers, They don’t care who you appoint Senate President or Deputy Senate President. Let the past and present Senate Presidents or Deputy Senate Presidents in APC call Igbo meetings now and see who will attend.
These young men in the East are interested in the fact that you want to restructure this country. They are glad that you want every community to have a sense of belonging and that they are also regarded as bona fide citizens of Nigeria.
So our preoccupation is that we haven’t yet succeeded, until the tribunal decides, In getting somebody who will address restructuring. We may not get that person now but we will remain commited to restructuring, we will look inwards, we will begin to think home and we will begin to see how we can develop Igbo institutions. We can begin to see what we can do to make sure that Igbos do not reject themselves . The operative word is “Ahamefula.” I am interested in the concept of Ahamefula, a hundred percent.