Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo Interview with Lawrence Njoku Southeast Bureau Chief, Guardian Newspaper

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Guardian: What would you make of the President Muhammadu Buhari led Administration?

Nwankwo: I have to be very frank with you. The Muhammadu Buhari administration in this country has been a complete disaster. I knew from the outset that his presidency was a tragedy waiting to happen. What are my reasons for arriving at this conclusion? My conclusions here are anchored on observable hard facts that are incontrovertible. The first is Buhari’s penchant for religiously implementing a policy of exclusion. You possibly cannot expect anything good from a man who expressed his desire from the very beginning to run a segregative administration based on the voting patterns in the 2015 presidential elections.

For him to say on several occasions that his government would treat differently areas that gave his party 95% vote from the areas that gave only 5% indicated that he did not and still does not understand what political contest is all about. As far as I know, the beauty of democracy is located in its logic of freedom for the electorate to make a choice from an array of political contestants. At the end of the contest, whoever emerges the winner sees himself as the leader of all and not only of the people who voted for him. Buhari has failed this litmus test of democratic inclusion. Secondly, our people say that you can tell a ripe corn merely by looking at it. Among the Igbos, it is said that you can guess the quality of food to be served simply by looking at the quality of appetizers served before the main course.

Like I have always said about the Buhari presidency, you don’t give what you do not have. Any discerning person would have identified the ineptitude of this administration from the content of Muhammadu Buhari’s inaugural address on May 29th 2016. It is from such address that a focused leader hints on his vision and policy direction in governance. His inaugural speech was empty. Please for all it is worth, I urge you to pick up a copy of that inaugural address and go through it once again. You will be shocked how drab and uninspiring it was for such big occasion. So much noise has been made about a line in that address hinting that “he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody”. While many of Buhari apologists sought to convince Nigerians what he meant by that statement, I had warned Nigerians of the deceit and dictatorial import of that comment.

Today Buhari has taken Nigeria back by almost forty years and has proven beyond doubt that he is an ethnic and religious irredentist. The economy has collapsed and with it our collective destiny. Insecurity has not abated and poverty rate has tripled. The picture of things to come is gloomy and frightening. Buhari is, indeed, a colossal failure and his administration is a significant threat to the continued existence of this country as a corporate entity.

Guardian: Many Nigerians are demanding for the restructuring of the country and accusing the government of not being disposed to it. Do you think so?

Nwankwo: It is instructive that many Nigerians have come to the realization that the only way for the survival of the country is through restructuring. This is heartwarming. This is what I have canvassed over the past three decades at great risk to my personal safety. Undoubtedly, restructuring of Nigeria has no alternative. It is the only road to Nigeria’s survival. However, I am worried that even those currently canvassing for restructuring do not seem to understand the full import of the process of restructuring. I have heard some weird opinions about this and this makes me wonder if we will ever get our politics right. For the avoidance of doubt, if you do not get your politics right; there is no way you can get the economy right. All the talk about repositioning our economy have failed and will continue to fail until we get our politics right. There is alternative to this process. It is natural course of events in the growth of nations.

I do not need to remind you how Nigeria came to be a country. It was never meant to be one country. The story of the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates is very clear. It was and still remains one the greatest errors of British imperialism in this part of the world. States are not created by fiat. They evolve. All the states in Europe, Asia and Latin America went through a process of evolution. There was never a unilateral scrambling and partitioning of states in these areas. History is coterminous with the fact that all the states created by colonial fiat have collapsed today, even in Europe. The list includes former Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Sudan, etc. The ones still existing are in serious crisis. No matter how anyone may want to try to explain away the tragedy of that amalgamation in Nigeria, the truth is that it was an error of judgment and a wicked contrivance by the colonial authorities then.

But we do not have to dwell on this error because we have had several opportunities to correct it. The attainment of political independence in 1960 was a critical juncture for us to correct that error. The nationalists at that time realized the critical juncture by adopting a truly federal structure and inaugurating the 1963 Republican constitution, which outlined the boundaries of relationship between the central government and the federating units. You will agree with me that each region then was developing at its own pace; maximizing its comparative advantages and controlling the resources within its political space. It was the incursion of the military into political governance that destroyed our federalism. The military suspended that 1963 constitution and that was the beginning of our problems. The federating units were destroyed and replaced with the state-structure. The center became too powerful while the states became mere appendages.

This mentality of an all-powerful central government has been sustained with criminal impunity even under the civilian era. So when we talk about restructuring, what we are actually talking about is the reinvention of the 1963 constitution; constitutionalizing the six geo-political zones as federating units and devolving considerable powers to the regions. Restructuring simply means divesting the central government of certain powers and limiting its area of influence to issues like fiscal policies, military/defense, foreign policy, immigration and national elections. Restructuring does not mean the merging of states as some people would prefer; rather it is a thorough-going process that allows each region to control its resources and pay royalties to the central government. It is a process that is anchored on the principle of “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs”.

A system that relishes in the exploitation and impoverishment of its people on the nebulous concept of federal control of resources is evil and that is a perfect recipe for conflicts. You cannot justifiably rationalize a situation where you exploit other people’s resources, deprive them of the benefit of those resources and use the same resource to develop other areas. If we say we are experimenting with the US presidential system, it is only reasonable that we go the whole hog. The issue of resource control in the US should serve as illuminating example to us. Restructuring will help us to stem the tide of restiveness in many parts of the country; it will resolve the questions of citizenship, religion, resource control and fiscal federalism.

Incidentally, the present federal government seems to be impervious to this deafening clamour for the restructuring of the country for reasons best known to it. I wish to point out here that the Obasanjo and Goodluck administrations have successfully organized national conferences which made far-reaching recommendations on the how to restructure this country. Those recommendations should be implemented by the government if there is to be a tomorrow for this country. The current rabble-rousing of the Buhari administration would only take us to the slaughter house. Let no one be in doubt of this.

Guardian: Would you think that the Buhari administration would benefit anything by not restructuring the polity?

Nwankwo: The Buhari administration has nothing to benefit by refusing to restructure the country rather it has all to lose. You see, this administration is living on borrowed time. The road to Nigeria’s safety is restructuring. As presently constituted, the Nigerian system has and will continue to recreate inequality at the expense of equality; it will continue to reconstruct misery and poverty and induce acceptance of them as if they are ordained by God; it will continue to recondition corruption and enthrone it as a higher value for the regeneration of the spoilt system; it will continue to has reinvent ethnicity and sectionalism and make both acceptable criteria for appointments, and it will continue to declare its preference for the introduction of a state religion in a secular and multi-ethnic state like Nigeria.

Honestly, Muhammadu Buhari appears to me as the herald of Nigeria’s avoidable implosion and collective immolation. I say this because it has become clear that one of the emerging patterns of the Buhari presidency is its ethnic and sectional character; as well as barefaced hatred for the people of South-East and South-South. Several facts, which are within the public domain, connect these patterns to a calculated programme of Islamization of the country by Muhammadu Buhari. In truth, I am not surprised by what Buhari is doing today because he did exactly the same thing from 1983 to 1985 when he was Nigeria’s military dictator.

However, one would have thought that age and the passage of time would have refined and reconditioned him. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. In Buhari, I have come to appreciate the truism that a man remains whatever character he is irrespective of his station in life. A monster will always remain a monster and cannot be beautified by any invention of the human mind including political rebranding of “change”. This Buhari government is dirty, its nose has been dashed to the mud; and its entire framework has been smeared by the stench of selectivism, ethnic cleansing, corruption, hardship and subtle but intense programme of Islamization.
So asking if the Buhari administration would benefit anything by not restructuring the country, for me begs the issue. It is like asking if a patient diagnosed with infected appendectomy would benefit anything if he refuses to have an operation to remove the illness. He will die. Nigeria is sick and requires a consummate surgeon who must perform a delicate operation to remove a painful ailment. Buhari is not that surgeon. He does not have the capacity- both intellectually and physically, to undertake such delicate operation. He is supine in intelligence and crass in appreciating the forces at play in the magnetic field of Nigeria’s politics. That is the tragedy of our present circumstance.

Guardian: You may have known about some recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. Would you see Nigeria as presently in need of those recommendations?

Nwankwo: I have alluded to this conference earlier. The 2014 National Conference was the one organized by the past administration of Goodluck Jonathan. It was a follow up and an improvement to the earlier ones convoked by late Sani Abacha in 1994/95 and Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. Specifically, the National Conference of 2014 made far-reaching recommendations which are fundamental for today’s Nigeria.

For instance, the 2014 Conference recommended the creation of 18 new states including an extra one for the south-east to ensure parity of states for all the geo-political zones. It also recommended that states willing to merge can do so based on certain conditions. On resource control/derivation principle/fiscal federalism, the Conference noted that assigning percentage for the increase in derivation principle, and setting up Special Intervention Funds to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development, require some technical details and consideration. The Conference therefore recommended that Government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentage on the three issues and advise government accordingly.

On the issue of public finance and revenue allocation, the 2014 Conference recommended that the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5%, State Governments – 35% and Local Governments 22.5%. In relation to the best form of government for the country, the 2014 Conference recommended a modified presidential system; a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. On power sharing and rotation, the 2014 Conference recommended that the principle of power rotation should be enshrined in the Constitution so that executive positions rotate at federal, state and local governments. The office of the president, governors and local government should rotate in such a way that all the geo-political zones in the federation, states, local governments, as the case may be should have a chance to produce a president, governor and local government chairman.

The Conference also recommended that the LGs will no longer be the third tier of government; that the federal and states should be the only tiers of government and that States can go ahead and create as many local governments as they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account should be scrapped and in its place the establishment of a State RMAFC with representatives of LG and a Chairman nominated by the Governor. The Constitution should fix the tenure for Local Government Councils at three years. The Conference also recommended the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission, SIECs. Among other recommendations of the 2014 Conference were the reintroduction of the old national anthem; withdrawal of government sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands and payment of taxes by churches and mosques. These recommendations are germane to our present situation and implementing them would mark the beginning of the process of restructuring; but like I said earlier, this administration lacks the gusto, capacity and political will to implement those recommendations because implementing them would effectively abort Buhari’s nothernization and Islamization agenda.

Guardian: The APC has tried so much to blame the PDP for the situation of the country. Would you think they have done enough in the last one year to tackle the situation?

Nwankwo: I find it ridiculous that almost 15months in office, the APC government is still finding excuses aimed at rationalizing its failures. Adopting the blame game strategy is the hallmark of leadership ineptitude and idiocy. But come to think of it; what is the difference between the PDP and APC? The difference for me is the difference between six and half-a-dozen. The APC is the mirror image of the PDP. Check out the background of all the leaders of the APC. Virtually all of them were members of the PDP before. They were men and women who were short-changed in the PDP in a vicious power game. So for me there is no difference between them.
That been said, I am inclined to believe that it was the conspiracy of the those disgruntled former PDP members and the familiar treachery of certain individuals that actually brought Muhammadu Buhari to power at a point he was not prepared for it and when he could scarcely imagine positive imperatives for the rehabilitation of the Nigerian-type economy. Had Buhari, after his woeful loss in 2011, not told Nigerians that he would never contest the presidency again?

In clear terms, blaming the PDP does not explain Buhari’s lack of vision and mission and his shameful failure to fast-track Nigeria’s economy. On the contrary, it shows what a poor leader Buhari is and his naivety in grappling with the antagonism of social forces especially as they affect the difference between what an objective and focused leader should do in government; how he intends to achieve it and with what probable outcome. Buhari was merely conscripted into the presidential race by forces beyond his kin and that qualifies him as an accidental and unwilling leader. A leader who came to power prepared will not fall into the pit of shame that Buhari has fallen. Such leader would have the track record of being conversant with the realities of his environment; he would demonstrate that before coming into power, he would have come into contact with the frustrating aspects of such realities and that given such contacts such leader is always determined to use the apparatus of state to rebuild society from scratch.

And here I have to mention world class leaders like Barak Obama of the US. Obama was not a chance occurrence on America’s political scene. There is no evidence, both in his actions and utterances to suggest that he was conscripted into power by forces beyond his control. He came to power at a point the US economy was experiencing serious recession. Rather than blaming the government of his predecessor, which had precipitately embarked on two wars at enormous cost to the US economy, Obama began a conscious implementation of his blue print to reclaim the US economy. He injected massive stimulus to the collapsing auto industries, the banking and real estate sectors. In the end he was able to bring the US economy out of recession and today the US economy has fully recovered. And the way Obama went about the implementation of his blueprint with a complicating mastery of the US political architecture; its tempo and pulse shows that he is not an accidental leader. That he won a second term in office in the face of numerous challenges and unfavourable forces, which his policies generated from the bowels of the Republican establishment, has a direct relationship with his acute intelligence; his scientific grasp of the odds of the American political system. His competence for remaining in power derives from the logic that a man who had plotted for power over the years is in control. How history will judge him is an entirely different matter.

What do we have in Nigeria? A government that promised change but has delivered chains; a government that promised succor but has delivered suffering; a government that promised relief but has delivered grief; a government that is bereft of ideas; a government that invents excuses for its failures; a government which philosophy is evil propaganda and demonization of its real and perceived opponents. Thus it is not surprising that the APC has failed woefully in the past one year to address any of our suffocating problems but has taken refuge in galling accusations of the PDP as the reasons for its heartaches, bellyaches and headaches. This is lamentable and signposts a typical definition of failure.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Dr. Titus Asiegbu Okereke

Zoologist and businessman, turned 80 on the 12th of January. A native of Obinikpa village, Ajalli, he was educated at Government College, Ughelli, University College, ...