October 10, (THEWILL) – Chief Willy Ezugwu is the Secretary-General of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and the coordinator of the South-East Revival Group (SERG). In this interview with AMOS ESELE, he explains what he thinks should be done to deepen governance in the country. Excerpts:
What would you say about 61 years of Nigerian Independence?
Nigeria has come a long way. But many members of the elite will tell you that we must mark time because the world’s oldest democracy is 200 years-old and it is still fine tuning its democracy. Some of us would even add that America is as satanic as Nigeria. What we fail to realise is that our major problem is lack of leadership. Nigeria has never been so disunited, yet we are still together. Indeed, God is a Nigerian.
So you admit to that reasoning?
Why do I say so? In spite of the challenges we have had, we still remain united. Nigeria is blessed with mineral, human and other resources in abundance yet unable to tap these resources. At 61, we still cannot get our acts right, with leadership problems, heightened insecurity and corruption on an unbelievable scale. We thought the PDP, (People’s Democratic Party) was corrupt and unable to secure the country from terrorists and we voted for change. The APC, (All Progressives Congress) has disrupted and disunited Nigeria further. They do not even deny it. The truth is that the ruling elite and in particular, the governing party has failed Nigerians.
What is your suggestion for a way forward?
You cannot move forward without understanding how you moved backward. One is for the Independent National Electoral Commission to give us a credible election in 2023. Yet, I think the National Assembly and to an extent, the judiciary, have allowed themselves to be cowed by the executive, making the country look like a one-party state. Coupled with that is the reign of nepotism; competence and reality does not count anymore. If the government was committed to fighting corruption, many of our appointed and elected leaders would be in jail and some sanity would prevail in the country.
Do you support the call for restructuring and in what form?
There has to be restructuring, fiscal and devolution of power from the centre to the units. Those opposed to restructuring and power shift want the disintegration of the country. Look at the current war on VAT (value added tax). It shows that there are two types of law in the country. In one area, you are free to enact laws that allow for the destruction of alcohol and will collect the VAT that comes from VAT on alcohol and the states that generate the VAT get little in return. To me, any state that cannot fund its budget should be allowed to remain in the state it was when it was created. Waiting for states like Lagos, Rivers, Enugu and such like to generate VAT and then you make a public display in destroying the sources of the revenue is hypocrisy. Many of these states cannot even pay salaries and their pensioners are daily fighting to be paid.
What do you say to the argument that power shift should be negotiated, not forced as the Southern Governors Forum appeared to have done when they insisted that power must come to the South in 2023?
Please let us be sincere with ourselves. You do not engage in an argument that you cannot prove. The North would be in power for a full six years with President Buhari by 2023. People say it is unconstitutional to make demands for power shifts, but morality still obtains in politics. Alhaji Baba Ahmed of the Northern Elders Forum has said they have the population to retain power in the North. Can he tell us how he arrived at that conclusion? There is nothing like the North of old. Part of the Middle Belt is openly supporting the South. Same are sections of the North where there are pockets of minorities who feel alienated and want out. What is even amazing is that many leaders in the North say they do not want restructuring and power shift. What have they done with power? Today, the North is worse off with insecurity, banditry and infrastructural decay. Anyway, if the ruling party has the interest of Nigerians at heart, it should look out for those who they think can move the country forward.
The two major political parties are looking to the South-East for those who can move the country forward. Do you think it is time for an Igbo to be president?
Of course. As the coordinator of the Southeast Regional Group, also, I believe it is the time for the South-East to produce a president for this country because every other areas have had their turn. Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the socio-political organisation in the South-East wants me as well. When the Niger Delta militants protested the neglect of their area, President Musa Yar’ Adua pacified them. Has anyone tried to address the cry of marginalisation in the South-East?
The proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) appear to be complicating things with their activities in the South-East?
What activities? An APC governor in the region, Hope Uzodinma, recently said that 70 per cent of those causing havoc in the South-East are not members of the IPOB. Where are our security agencies, the police, the DSS, the CID, etc? All we hear is ‘unknown gunmen’.
IPOB says there would be no election in the South-East and they are going about carrying it out, at least reportedly in Anambra State where the governorship election is scheduled for November 6?
IPOB never said there would be no election in the South-East in 2023. Those saying it are doing so to give a dog a bad name. IPOB has always owned up to whatever they are doing. If an APC governor can say those that burnt police stations in his state were outside agents, how can we believe what is being said?
Isn’t the prevailing insecurity in the southeast also a hindrance?
That is why I gave you an example with the policy of late President Yar’Adua. There should be negotiation. All the agitation there is because of nepotism and marginalisation. Let there be restructuring, everything will die down. We need inclusion in governance for every citizen in this country, whether you are from the North or the South. Those days in the Northern Region with its groundnut pyramids, cocoa in the West and palm oil in the East were evidence of what restructuring leading to internally generated revenue can do.
What do you say about Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State who recently parted ways with his counterparts in the Southern Governors Forum with his decision not to support VAT war and the ban on open grazing?
That is a big mistake. Governor Umahi said his going into the APC was a popular decision. Initially he supported open grazing when the decision was first made, but when the Forum held its most recent meeting in Enugu, he stayed away. Imagine the Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum failing to come to the meeting. If he is running away from fear of being charged with corruption, he better be told that he would leave power at the same time as the president. So why take that position?
As General Secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, how would you explain that only two parties, the APC and the PDP, are functional in the country?
Because of bad governance, there is hunger in the land. Before now, political parties used to generate their funds. Not anymore. We were as many as 97 at a time, but after INEC deregistered parties we became less than 34. Many of them are finding it hard to cope. But are the two strong parties providing the leadership and opposition? Is that why the National Assembly does not want e-voting and e-transmission of results? I think if we make NASS part-time, many of the members will come to the chambers and seats. Even with the huge money paid to them, the chambers are always scanty, but when they are going for oversight functions, you will see a huge party.
Now that you have mentioned e-transmission of results, are you convinced that INEC is serious in saying it can do it?
With what the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has said and the way he has explained it, I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt because he may be bold in saying so because the President is going and so would not threaten him. He may have decided to leave a legacy, just like Prof Humphfrey Nwosu did with the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Prof Yakubu’s insistence on the Commission’s capacity to conduct election and electronically transmit results will indeed mean well for a free and fair election. If he insists and the NASS refuses to grant him the power, Nigerians should come out en masse and protest in support of INEC.
What do you say to the view that politicians have failed and technocrats and business people should be recruited to the presidency in 2023?
How do you get these people? Politicians have made life hard for the people that any day they dangle a carrot before them, the people will do anything. The technocrats you talked about do not have the kind of money to spend. No doubt, they can do the job, but Nigeria is so corrupt that you need money to prosecute a presidential project. Are you aware of Nigerians who are willing to spend billions to assist? You cannot run an election in Nigeria without billions of naira. Even running an election through the Internet as you suggested some politicians have successfully done in some countries is hard. How many people can access the Internet in Nigeria? This facility is in the townships. Majority of our people are in the hinterland.