Igbo Presidency Almost Impossible
Elder statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze has warned that the nation that the much anticipated 2019 elections may not hold if the country is not properly restructured before then.
In this interview with Vincent Kalu in Lagos, he equally opened up on a lot of national issues including how former President Obasanjo doctored the nation’s constitution to create the current problems the country is facing today. He also spoke on the near hopeless situation of the Igbo and the tough conditions through which an Igbo can become Nigeria’s president.
Nigeria doesn’t seem to be working, why?
Nigeria is not working; this is the truth. It is not working because of so many things. The first and foremost is bad leadership, which leads to bad governance. We don’t have the right type of leadership in this country, at least at the present time.
This has worsened since the election of President Muhammadu Buhari; I have made it clearly that I don’t think this man was the right type of leader for this country at this time of our history. What kind of leader do you need to govern Nigeria, which is one of the most complex societies in the world, with over 300 different ethnic nationalities? A team of researchers from the University of Ibadan has identified at least, 300 ethnic groups in the country.
To be able to govern it and manage this type of complexity and diversity is not a job for everybody. Not everybody can do this. You need a certain minimum of intellectualism for you to be able to do this.
What does the constitution proscribe as educational qualifications – just Standard Six. In today’s Nigeria, where we know expo, we know fake certificates, how can somebody with Standard Six, whatever may be his experience govern this country; lead this country? It’s not possible. I have stated this time without number, it’s not that I’m prejudiced about anybody in particular; I’m concerned about this country, and what this country needs considering the complexity and diversity. The ideas involved in government are so complex. What do you know to bring about some kind of peaceful coexistence among over 300 ethnic groups in the country? Intellectualism means ideas, people who can think, rationalize and understand ideas about society, about humanity, about human relationships.
This is the starting point. You need somebody who is educated enough; you need somebody with energy, anybody looking at you (the reporter) will know that you have the energy, but anybody looking at me will know that I don’t have the energy anymore. I will be 87 in March, and so, for me to go and put myself in that position, I’m doing a disservice to Nigeria and to my self; to go and take a job that I know that I cannot manage at my age.
I have said this that at the age of 75, nobody can undertake the job of governing or leading Nigeria now. You cannot do it; you can’t mobilize the society. Mobilization is one of the most difficult jobs of political leadership. To mobilize people for national transformation you have to move round, address people at town hall gatherings and at various platforms. Seventy five year old man cannot do this; I cannot do this. This is what Nigeria needs. This is what is involved in political leadership. We don’t have it – orientation and inclination are involved. You must consider the background of our country, emerging from colonialism. What is planted in us, that personality, as Africans had been degraded by colonialism. What is involved in decolonization, you need certain minimum of education to be able to understand what is meant by decolonization. How do you decolonize the mind of our people, whose personality had been degraded by centuries of colonialism? This is the problem of leadership, which is the first issue.
You have been in the forefront calling for restructuring in order to make Nigeria work. Towing your line, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has come up with proposal on how to restructure the country, are their suggestions in tandem with your position?
Restructuring, whether moving from leadership to structures (leadership is about individuals), we don’t have structure. The structure of governance is not right, that is why there is a clamour for restructuring. Essentially, the problem is on individual leadership, but you also have problems of structure. The structures are not right; they have to be reformed to create the right structure.
Regrettably, we have a leader, the president, who rejected restructuring, and attributed it to people who wanted to secede, and dismember the country.
We need restructuring for this country to move forward.
We have taken the first step, which is good in adopting federalism, as a system of governance suitable for this country, but that federal structure is again not right.
I was one of those responsible for the federal system that we have. Of the so-called 49 wise men that drafted the 1979 Constitution, the late Chief Rotimi Williams and I, were really the architect of that constitution. We were thinking of having a strong one Nigeria, with power concentrated at the centre, that is what landed us in the situation we now found ourselves – a strong centre, that is now muffling all of us. Too much power at the centre, then compounded by 28 years of absolute military government. They ruled us for 28 years and then compounded our problems.
Maybe, the problems we have today were created by the military rule, which is again individual problems, not one of structures, so we must get away from that.
Thank God the APC has rejected the position of the president, who had said there was no restructuring. His party if it has any control over him has now come round to say we will restructure after 2019 elections.
You and other elders insist that restructuring must come before 2019 elections, but the APC says it is after. How do we reconcile this?
APC wants to deceive us, but I hope we would not allow ourselves to be deceived again. This country has been run by government of deceit. APC is government of deceit. Their restructuring is the more you look the less you see, that is why they say they were for restructuring, and after Buhari’s re-election then they we will restructure. This deceit has been going on for too long.
Dr. Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Information, perfected falsehood, deceit and propaganda into an art, but our own Lai Mohammed, is trying to outdo Goebbels by churning out lies, deceits everyday. Telling us that they accepted restructuring, but we should wait after the election. If you don’t want restructuring now, then there should be no election. I hope Nigeria would stand up for once and say, no, we have had enough deceit, and say restructure now or never.
You said you and the late Chief Williams were the architects of the 1979 Constitution that came up with the presidential system of government, given our not unpalatable experience, do you regret that action?
No, I don’t. I should believe that it is better than parliamentary. What I regret is the amount of power that we put at the disposal of the Federal Government, which was too much.
We believed wrongly, as it turned out that strong centre was what is needed for one Nigeria; that if you have a strong centre you would be able to achieve the dream of a strong united, progressive one Nigeria. We were so enamored of the whole idea of strong one Nigeria.
Regrettably, the amount of power we put at the centre has been so enlarged by the military that the thing has been turned, virtually into a unitary system. We have unitary system tagged, euphemistically, Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is not a federal system; it is unitary system. We must go back to the original thing, the true federalism of 1960 and 1963 Constitutions.
We must let each constituent unit; each federating unit manage its own internal affairs; internal self government, either alone or in combination with related groups. Let them manage their own affairs and leave matters of common concern at the centre.
All this do or die struggle to control the centre should go. That is part of what is killing us. Everybody is struggling to control the centre. We have to reduce the powers at the centre to the barest minimum than what we have in 1960 and 1963. The Southern Leaders of Thought sat and agreed that we must reduce more the powers that we have at the centre in the 1960 and 1963, and let each unit, state or zone go and manage its affairs, and the centre will manage the little that is left there. That is the only way you can have coexistence.
Still on the 1979 Constitution, we were told that the military handed you what they wanted and you towed that line, and not what the people wanted?
It is an exaggeration. The military told us that they wanted presidential system. They didn’t tell us the amount of power to be at the centre. They wanted the presidential system, we bought the idea, but the amount of power to be at the centre was our own making.
As I said, we believed that a strong centre would give us one Nigeria. It was a misconceived idea we had at the time. It’s part of the fault of the military, the presidential system, but the amount of power at the centre, which has led to the do or die struggle to control the centre was our own idea, not the military.
It is true that when we finished, our report was sent to the Constituent Assembly, and I was a member, not by election, but because I was a chairman of one of the sub-committees. The Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Chief Williams, and the chairmen of all the sub-committees, were by decree made members of the first Constituent Assembly. That is how Chief Williams and I got into it, and we guided that Constituent Assembly, and we produced the draft constitution. Obasanjo was then the head of state, and went ahead and inserted so many things into it, which neither the Constitution Drafting Committee nor the Constituent Assembly considered, and these things they inserted became part of the problems we have today. That is how we have the 1979 Constitution – partly the recommendations of the CDC, partly the recommendations of the CA, and the partly the insertions made by Obasanjo’s military government.
Why didn’t you people protest that this was not what you recommended?
We saw it as a final constitution in a decree, and you can’t do anything then. It took me time to read it word by word to see the additions, and I tabulated them. I’m not sure that Chief Williams went through the way I did to find out what these people had done. Our problems didn’t start today.
What are the Southern Leaders of Thought doing to convince their Northern counterparts that restructuring is not about breaking up of Nigeria?
In my statement on behalf of Southern Leaders of Thought, I made it very clear that breaking up of Nigeria is not part of the object of restructuring. The object of restructuring is to keep Nigeria one; to make it possible for the over 300 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to live in peace, and not to break up. Those who are taking this view are trying to be mischievous; to create misunderstanding.
This country must be kept together, but it must be restructured. It is only those who refused restructuring along the lines that I have just indicated are the people who will break up this country.
If the country is not restructured along those lines there will be trouble. There may not be 2019 elections, and it will be the result of their own doing.
I was mandated by the Southern Leaders of Thought, after the Southwest had done its own summit; the South-south has just done its own summit, and the Southeast has done what it called, its own summit, I was mandated to get in touch with Governor Tambuwal of Sokoto State, whom, they say is the chairman of the Northern Leaders of Thought, for a national summit, where we will agree on a common platform for restructuring.
I haven’t written the letter yet, because I have just been briefed on the outcome of the South-south summit. I will write to him for us to agree on a meeting for restructuring, and a framework for such a meeting. That is the next stage of the work.
The APC, as it recommended, even the Federal Government has accepted the state police, which is the central part of restructuring. You can’t have true federalism with states not having their own separate police. It is a contradiction.
Federalism means separate governments at the centre and at the level of the constituent units. You can’t have a government without a cohesive force. Now that they have now agreed, the Vice President has spoken on this. The state police you must do, but you must do it as part of restructuring.
You can’t do it by word of mouth or by ordinary legislation, it involves changing the constitution, and that is where we run into another problem. My own idea about restructuring involves a new constitution, that is what this country needs; a new beginning.
But the National Assembly is there to give us a new constitution
National Assembly can’t give you a new constitution. A new constitution involves the entire people of Nigeria. The constitution that we have now, though it says, ‘we the people of Nigeria’, was made by the military Decree 24 of 1999. It is not the peoples constitution. Constitution is not the work of government; it is the work of the people.
That is where another problem is. The NASS doesn’t not believe in a new constitution. What is going on is their constitutional amendments; I don’t know how many they have done. So, if you want to know what the constitution of Nigeria is, you can’t find it in the 199 Constitution, you have to go through the large number of constitutional amendments made by the NASS, and they think they can implement this restructuring by constitutional amendment, which is a perversion of the whole idea of restructuring.
Some are confused on how this restructuring and the new constitution will come about. Will it involve dismantling some institutions like the NASS?
There is no confusion or problem; it is the will to have a new beginning. Once we are determined to have a new constitution to launch upon a new political order, new legal order, we set up a constitution drafting committee to draft the constitution. The NASS will be involved because a new constitution can only be adopted at a referendum of all the peoples of Nigeria, but you can’t have a referendum without a law passed by the NASS. People can’t one day troop out to say they are voting in a referendum without a law, which will be chaos. There must be law regulating voting at the referendum. The moment you have done this, and you have majority of Yes votes; you repeal the Decree 24 of 1999, and a new constitution takes over. Of course, it has to be simultaneous, as you don’t allow a vacuum. Then the people would have spoken.
Don’t you think that members of NASS are afraid that any restructuring will affect them and that is why they don’t buy into the idea?
This is a matter of drafting; you don’t do away with the past completely. In any new constitution, there is transitional provision. You can provide there that the present NASS with their members can continue in existence for this period of time, until another election is held. There must be that kind of transitional provisions.
They don’t need to bother themselves as individuals. Transitional provision will be made for them to continue for a period of time, or maybe till the end of their term, for which they were originally elected.
You said that if restructuring is not held, that 2019 elections won’t hold, with the attendant chaos, anarchy, coupled with the killings going on around the country, are you not afraid we are treading on the road to Rwanda?
Rwanda was caused, and that is part of the tragedy of Nigeria. Some groups wanted to bring chaos. It is this hate songs in Rwanda that caused the ethnic tension, and later the genocide. Here, some malicious people wanted to re-enact the Rwanda scenario by bringing out hate songs.
Have you ever listened to those hate songs? How can anybody who means well for Nigeria ever allowed that kind of thing to go out, saying, “Erase Ndigbo from the face of the earth; destroy them and raze their houses and property ”. That was what the song says both in English and Hausa.
Can you imagine what this could have led to if it had not been nipped in the bud?
That’s a hate song, and that was exactly what caused the genocide in Rwanda. Many Igbo have started evacuating from the North- the quit notice. That was an incitement to genocide.
From your vantage position, do you think there is any external force to destabilise Nigeria?
There may be, but I have no authentic information on that, so I don’t want to speak on what I do not know. However, ISIS is said to have a link with Boko Haram. ISIS is external, and it is the only external force that I can think of. I cannot think of countries, states wanting to create chaos and trouble in Nigeria.
Buhari from his body language and recent statement that he wants to take Nigeria to a higher level is seeking re-election. Do you support his return bid, and what must he do to get re-elected?
I said it earlier, that this administration has been characterised by deceit. The campaign for his re-election is a journey in deceit. He has spent almost three years in office. Three years of chaos, of suffering, of hardship.
It is captured the best by the Catholic Bishop Conference if you read what they said. They gave a good description of this – what this country has suffered under Buhari.
I agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo that Buhari should not be given a second term. He has done enough damage in his first term and we don’t need anything more to convince us that he can’t take this country to any higher level, unless he is talking about higher level of suffering. He will take us to a higher level of misery, if he is given a second term. The decision is now left for Nigerians to decide.
2019, is decisive, it is the determination of the capacity for Nigerians to govern themselves. From all indications – body language, what he has said, what the Secretary to the Government of the Federation said, it is very clear that the man is going to contest again. It is also clear that the APC will put him forward.
My position still stand that no restructuring no election in 2019, and that is also the position of the Southern Leaders of Thought.
Do you people have the capacity to carry out this position?
It’s not for the group alone; we put it out to the people, and see what happens.
What must Buhari do to get Nigerians back to his side?
Churning out lies, trying to buy votes and support here and there, that is just their concerns. No governance now, it is all about winning the election. It is for the Nigerians to decide if there will be elections.
What is your view on the reordering of elections that the NASS has proposed, which doesn’t go down well with both Presidency and INEC?
I’m 100 percent in support of the NASS, the reorder of election as they proposed is what this country needs. This bandwagon effect we should not allow it anymore. The presidential election should come last, not first. Once the presidency is elected, everybody wants to jump into its bandwagon. Let the election of the president come last. The NASS should go ahead. It is doubtful whether the president will assent to the bill. If the NASS cannot muster the two third to override his veto, then the crisis has started.
There seems to be chaos ahead of next year’s elections, can you say that 2019 is pregnant for Nigeria?
Yes, 2019 is very much pregnant for Nigeria. It will start from there. The President will not assent to the bill. If he assents, ok, as it will save us from trouble.
I don’t see why anybody should be opposing this. Some people argue that order of election is for INEC. It is a question of constitution, let the Supreme Court decide, and everybody should accept its verdict.
Obasanjo has condemned the APC as well as the PDP, and mooted the idea of a coalition or Third force; will that be the panacea to our problem?
You can have a coalition of parties. You don’t have a coalition within a party. We have 68 political parties, and he is promoting a coalition of parties to form a third force. That is my understanding and how it works out in practice, I do not know. In a situation like this, any idea is worth trying to avoid chaos, and prevent Buhari from getting a second term, that is creating a third force, not APC, not PDP.
Igbo have been clamouring to produce the president of this country, when do you think, it can be possible?
Igbo presidency is possible only when rotation is written in the constitution. If it is the turn of the Igbo, they will know whether there are 10 or 20 candidates, only one of them, Igbo, will emerge. The political forces are so aligned against Igbo presently, and unless there is rotation, Igbo presidency will never materialize through ballot box, unless by way of providence, as in the case of former President Jonathan.
Will the rotation be in the new constitution, which is the product of restructuring?
I don’t see rotation being introduced by way of amendment. It is going to be difficult. During Babangida’s era, I was the chairman of Constitution Amendment Committee, and we agreed unanimously on rotation of the presidency, before we submitted the report, the thing got to Babangida, and he made a national broadcast rejecting it. That was the end of that.
When he wanted to contest for the presidency, the same person supported rotation, and made promises to Ndigbo that if he was elected after his term he would make sure that it was rotated to the Igbo. I’m not sure that except in the new constitution adopted by a referendum that the NASS will ever pass rotation by way of amendment. In the NASS, there was a bill to rebuild the Northeast ravaged by Boko Haram, it went smoothly, but when the same was introduced to rebuild the Southeast destroyed by the civil war, there was uproar in the House. The same scenario will play out when you want to introduce this rotation. Those forces against the Igbo will never allow this.
They will talk about Igbo presidency, but when the chips are down they back out.
Fear. Fear of domination. Contrary to the character of the Igbo man, if the Igbo man becomes president, the Igbo will be the least beneficiaries because he will want to make sure that every ethnic group is well treated. That is the character of the Igbo man, he believes in justice, equity and fairness.
But because of the aggressive nature of the Igbo man in business, they are all over the place; others think that they would carry that to the office of the president if Igbo man becomes president. It is not so. The things about the Igbo character, business sense and entrepreneurship; he is so resourceful and enterprising – over 60 per cent of the hotels in Abuja are owned by them. Others are so afraid.
It is this fear that is behind the hate song – Wipe out the Igbo from the face of the earth, and destroy his houses and property. When you do that it won’t give you that enterprising spirit.
Part of the solution to the problem of Nigeria will be an Igbo president. Like I said, the two contradictory traits in Igbo character – the enterprising spirit; he wants to be on top of every situation, at the same time, he is destined in his character, the fairness – he wants everybody to be well treated, and because he won’t like to be associated with failure, he would do everything to make the government succeed.
But I believe somehow, Nigeria will come out of its problems. We have had problems in the past and we got over them. The restructuring will come before 2019, to enable us have the elections, but we should not allow them to have their way again by deceiving us to wait till after the election.
Some people accuse Buhari of elevating nepotism to a level unseen or heard in this country, do you agree with them?
His nepotism is incredible. But he came to office mainly on that platform. That is what he came for. When you see a man contesting presidential elections four consecutive times. Not that he wanted to be president, no, there is something else that he is pursuing.
Appointing security chiefs from a particular region, has given room for suspicion and insinuation that there is an underlying agenda, what’s your take on this?
I have written a paper on this. Can anybody who means well for this country think of concentrating, sectionalizing the security apparatus in just one area?
All the members of the so- called, National Security Council coming from one section, with only one exception.
All the members – Minister of Defence, Minister of Interior, Chief of Army Staff, Inspector General of Police, National Security Adviser, National Intelligence Agency, Immigration, Customs, Civil Defence, DSS, etc.
Oh God! The man has no conscience, and he sits down to preside over such a meeting, the security of every one of us, and you think it is matter for just you alone and your people. It is this thing that has cast aspersion in the minds of the people including myself. I was disturbed when I went through the list. You appointed the people not by fairness, like the IGP, you removed people above him and brought him over; in the Customs, you did the same. Like the Executive Secretary NHIS, somebody very junior you brought him up over the head of his senior. Now the minister, under whom he works suspended him, and you reversed the minister’s directive, and restored him, and you call yourself president of one Nigeria that cannot be negotiable.
It is part of this concentration of the security chiefs in one area of the country that is what has emboldened the Fulani herdsmen. It is an agenda.
They know that this is agenda of the government and so, they are encouraged by this. The president is a member of the Miyetti Allah, and a former patron. How do you expect a patron to take action against herdsmen? That is why they are rampaging with impunity , you cannot do anything to them. They are sacred cows.
How can you, a country that consists of a diversity of people and you think you can favour one when you are the father of the nation? You are betraying that father of the nation, and that is what has landed us where we are today.