Elder statesman, renowned dental surgeon, former Chairman of the Governing Board, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, President-General emeritus, Aka-Ikenga, an Ndigbo intellectual think tank and former Vice President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, Dr Sylvan Ebigwei, in this interview with Sunday Sun, x-rayed the critical issues destroying the country, stating also what needs to be done, including the clamor for president of Igbo extraction in 2023, PIB and the recent attack on Nigeria Defense Academy (NDA). Excerpt:
What is your take on the attack of the Nigerian Defense Academy?
It is threatening and highly provocative and it demeans the Nigerian military. A whole Academy, for the so-called bandits to attack there has left many questions than answers. Of course, no bandit(s) will have the guts to break into a military academy especially the NDA in Kaduna; they killed men and kidnapped an officer. It is unheard of. In any clime the military barracks, the military academies are the most secured environment that you can think of in any country, not to talk of Nigeria. I trained at Southern Police College, Ikeja, it was known as the Southern Police College in the 60s, I trained there. Even for you as a student there to gain access into that arena; you have to pass through some Security checks. What happened at the NDA in Kaduna to me is a betrayal, a conspiracy. You cannot pass a fortified gate of the academy to go and operate with arms for that matter. I see it as a betrayal of the officers there by those they know very well or those who know that environment. It’s not an ordinary invasion, there is more to it. The situation does not arguer well for the security of this nation. If they have done that to break into a military Academy, it means they can equally break into the Aso Villa to kidnap Mr. President or any other person. So who is safe? As far as I am concerned the authorities especially the Presidency should not sweep this under the carpet. They should not call it an invasion by bandits, bandits rob on the highways, and bandits do not go into the military Academy because there is no money there for them to steal. It is an inside job to shame the Buhari Government. It’s to let the government know that there is no strong security in the country. To attack where you train your security officers portends danger and the message is that any place can be attacked. If they can break into the Academy they can equally break into the house of the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, not to talk of the governors. They should probe the incident very well. DSS and all the security agencies must dig into the issue and uproot it.
Although the PIB has been passed it has continued to generate intense controversy as the Niger Delta Region is still, kicking over the three per cent allocation?
As far as I am concerned, whether it is one per cent, three per cent, 50 per cent or more, Nigerians, sorry to say it, are endemically and pathologically fraudulent when managing certain things. My worry is that the ones that have been given to the region what have they done with it over the years? That is the issue. They have been pumping money into the NDDC over the years what can we show with it? I am from Delta State, what do we have to show for it? Instead, individuals become richer than the corporations and even than the government. I am not concerned with any form of percentage because no matter the percentage you allocate it will just be a drain pipe and this is sad. Until our brothers and by extension the Nigerian people change their mindset, we will continue to walk in circles with nothing genuine to show for it. I am aware that the NDDC report, the financial investigations carried out is out now, let us see what is in the report before we continue killing ourselves on PIB three per cent. What is sad, what I have noticed, and what everybody has seen is that the people who lay the golden goose, the Niger Deltans, are poorer than any other part of Nigeria. The government should up their ante in addressing issues concerning that region and not releasing money to those who will still embezzle that same money. If the government means well for the region they should change tactics and do something that will benefit the region and its people directly. They should not go through third parties. Look at the Abuja-Kaduna railway stations; look at the Airports being built in some states using the oil money, built directly by the Federal Government, look at the universities and institutions handled directly by the Federal Government here and there. Look at the hospitals being built by the Federal Government directly—why can’t they do the same for the Niger Delta region? You bring out money for agriculture, how has the Niger Delta region benefitted from it? Most people in the rural area of Niger Delta, are farmers and fishermen, now you have deprived them of their environment, you have destroyed their natural habitat, they are no more fishing because of the damage from oil exploration. Government should be committed to ensuring that something is done directly, not through the NDDC, so as to let the people there have a feel of their resources, improve their quality of life among others. NDDC is just a nomenclature and to me, it’s a conduit pipe of waste and fraud. They (government) are bringing out Tradermoni, why not bring out oil area money, give directly to the people, empower them with it, set up areas where they can do their businesses, set up industries there, empower their youths etc. You stay in Abuja and say you have allocated billions of money and at the end of the day 90 per cent of the money will end in individual pockets and nobody is brought to book. That is not the way to go.
Are you worried about the realization of president of Igbo extraction in 2023 given the fact that critics say Ndigbo are not yet serious and worse still not united to form a common front?
People saying such cannot be far from the truth. I am the immediate past Vice President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide. I worked with Nnia Nwodo. During our tenure, we tried to set up lot of things, then the election was conducted, after that election, we handed over to Prof George Obiozor, but other people emerged and went to form a parallel organisation. Even before that election, some Igbo people went to Abuja to register Ohanaeze in their name. Even when we were still there some officials of Ohanaeze battled with us so there is this crab mentality among our people. That mentality is that, if I am not there you cannot be there too. Ndigbo must do away with this endemic syndrome of crab mentality, we will find it very difficult politically. Look at a situation whereby the whole of Southern governors met to talk about open grazing and all that matter. How many of the governors from the Southeast are serious about stopping open grazing? This crab mentality syndrome is seriously and negatively affecting the Southeast politics and we have to watch it before it destroys the 2023 agenda because even as I speak some are already sabotaging the effort. If we don’t guide against it there is no way an Igbo man will get it. Of course, nobody gets power ala carte. You have to build bridges across other groups. The question is, are we doing enough of that?
But the Southeast zone seems to be relying on equity and fair play…?
(Cuts in) Nobody gives anybody power on a platter without you working for it and in such work, you must be united. Everybody is complaining about the Fulani, what did they do? They got united, speak with one voice and they control the country today. They know how to manipulate people, they know the art, they massage your ego and take over leadership. Leadership does not mean you have or must have a PhD, but what strategy are you adopting? What is your followership?You are talking about Igboland today, are they united? It is because of that leadership vacuum that Nnamdi Kanu has exploited and emerged. And once he gives order, it is carried out. A mark of leadership is in commanding obedience from the people. If Nnamdi Kanu can apply some sort of diplomacy into what IPOB is doing they will take over everywhere not by force or arms. It is not all about war, but you need to apply a high diplomatic approach to Nigerian issues. Look at the Southwest, no matter how they battle a time will come when they congregate like bees and close their nest and resolve any issue.
How do you see this lockdown on Mondays in the Southeast?
It is very undiplomatic, it is not good for Igbo business, it is very negative for the interest of Ndigbo.
But the Federal Government needs to listen to complaints of the Southeast and address them.
How will you assess Buhari’s presidency?
Well, to some people Buhari presidency is the best thing that has happened to Nigeria. Some people are saying that even among the Igbo leaders that they wish there will be another Buhari to continue with the legacies he will leave behind. Some say Buhari’s presidency has impacted negatively on the nation or even a disaster. Whether a leader is good or bad he must have followership, but how does it impact the generality of the people. There are some areas the Buhari administration has done well because it is wrong to condemn everything he has done. There are many areas he has not done well too. What I don’t like as a person is in trying to introduce a feudalistic system into this modern age. There is no country that does open grazing system given environmental changes. Open grazing damages the environment and it has brought a lot of conflicts, herders/farmers clashes, and all that. You ask yourself, how is it done in other countries? Do they still engage in open grazing? No, the cattle business is a private business not government business, so trying to support the herders that are causing mayhem in the country, killing everywhere is not good for the image of his government. Here the government of Buhari scores zero. Also on the issue of appointment there is lopsidedness and against certain minorities and ethnic groups. This is not fair. The positive issues of the Buhari administration include placing infrastructure, developing agriculture and allowing certain businesses to thrive such as the airlines, raising revenue generation, collectibles. As I said earlier there must be balancing in the areas of appointment, Nigeria has more than 344 ethnic groups and anything you are doing in terms of appointment, amenities must reflect all groups. The issue of security failure is a critical issue, more especially in the president’s own state, Katsina, other places like Zamfara, Kaduna and every other state is under serious threat. Internal security should be arranged by every state of this country. Centralizing security in Abuja is not the best option. The governors are the chief security officers of their states; they should be given some power to make state security arrangements so that they can protect their people.
What do you think is the solution to Nigeria’s problems?
As a doctor before you cure a patient you must know what the person is suffering from. You need a correct diagnosis. Politics has destroyed Nigeria, just as religion has equally done so. Politics is good, democracy is good, but the system of democracy in Nigeria is very primitive because politicians see politics as a source of income/livelihood, not as service to the people. What we must do now is to convoke a national political conference. I know that we have had some reviews, but certain things need to be pin-pointed out. The pecks of political office holders are too high, it’s unsustainable in a country like Nigeria. If we are adopting the Presidential system as we are doing now, make political office holding a part-time affair, Senator, lawmakers be paid allowances when they meet. Governors when you retire, no pension for you, etc. Make political office less attractive. If you want to serve why must you go to the bank to borrow to win an election? Devolve some powers to the federating units (restructuring). Let there be state police with well-articulated rules and regulations guiding it. The Parliamentary system of government, if you ask me, is best for Nigeria. The Sun
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