By Daniel Kanu
Octogenarian elder statesman, economist, and political strategist, Elder Umah Eleazu, had ran for the office of the president of Nigeria in the past. He has also seen it all as far as the country’s politics is concerned.
The 92-year-old outstanding icon told Sunday Sun that Nigeria is on the wrong track, heading for the precipice.
He said that there was an urgent need to convoke a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) for true peace and genuine development in the country, just as he suggested that an interim be put in place during the SNC period. Excerpts:
Looking at the political development now, it appears that your region, the Southeast, has been diplomatically edged out from getting the presidency as they expected in 2023?
Yes, it was to be expected, so I am not surprised. I would not say diplomatically, but capriciously edged out. You see, this issue of rotation, zoning, I have been opposed to it right from the beginning. This was in the days of the Second Republic. When PDP was formed and when they started talking about zoning again, some of us reminded the proponents that Shagari was overthrown simply because an Igbo man was in line to succeed him and the northern mafia did not want that. So, Buhari’s coup against Shagari was really a coup against the “turn by turn “ arrangement and all that. Again they supported it with such spurious argument as – that it will help to douse tension, stabilize the polity and all such excuses. We now know by experience that zoning and rotation cannot solve such issues. The intension was to rotate “Chop-Chop” between the Northern elite and their counterpart in the South, they were not thinking of governance, or development or the micro zoning implied in the six geopolitical zones we have now which makes nonsense of the turn by turn argument. Those of us against it knew that one of these days one side will hold the thing , and it will become so sweet that they will not want to give it up. And at that time they were not even talking about micro-zoning i.e. when it comes to South, you say which side of South or which side of North. At that time they were just thinking that okay, the North will chop and after the South will have its turn to chop. I knew it was going to create problems in the future. My position was and still is, that we should just stipulate the qualifications and conditions for a would-be president/governor, the things we expect of a person who wants to be say, a governor or president, a Senator etc, there must be a standard expectation and, qualification of the person, educationally and morally. It is better to say: this person must have one, a minimum of West African School Certificate. We wanted it to be a degree but the North said no, no, no because most of their people then would not qualify. That was why it was lowered to School Certificate (the beginning of mediocrity in governance); but in every part of the country now we have graduates, so we should state: you must have at least a first degree. Also, you must have had experience in managing people, materials, and other peoples’ money, whether it’s your company or a ministry or in a multi-national corporation etc, you must have experience in managing money and other people’s money, even if it’s in a church or other religious organization. Some churches make billions in a year. Another issue to be considered is that you must be a man of integrity, good moral standing and it’s not just on paper, people have to sign that they know you are an upright person. So with such, we don’t want to know whether you are from the North or from South, all we want to know is whether you have the requisite qualification to rule/govern other people. So what is happening now is something I can say I prophesied long time ago, especially now that we have one part that wants to dominate the whole of Nigeria, and they find it so profitable that they not only don’t want to share power they are importing their kith and kin from all over Africa to come replace the indigenous peoples of Nigeria. Look at what is happening in APC…They are now coming out to say oh, Northeast has not had it and poor Lawan who was enjoying his life as Senate President had to be drafted. The most logical candidate should have been Osinbajo if they were thinking of povernance as a political oarty. Then on our side (Southeast), they will try to de-market Ndigbo by saying that they do not agree on anything! Tell me; which part of Nigeria agrees on anything? Even the North, do they agree on anything? Even in APC (Southeast) has come out with many competent people for them to choose from, have they agreed on any one of them? “Give us a brick man,” what they need to do now is to screen the Igbo candidates among them and field one. Tall order! So since they don’t have character qualifications, so anybody can get up to say they can rule Nigeria, with or without experience, with or without moral character. So, I am not surprised about what is going on, especially on this issue of who wants to be president.
What do you say about the money they are paying to collect the presidential expression of interest form in both the APC and PDP?
For me, there are several issues involved. The source of the funds. Anybody who pays N100 million or N40 million to collect the form, we need to go and ask him where he was working in the last five years to have saved such a huge sum just to pick form. This is excluding other things that will come after that. So, if you look carefully, you will find that most of the people who have picked the forms have been Senators, ex- and sitting governors or well-connected contractors with the so head or tail that money came from the public purse, and one can even say that they stole the money from the public and yet we are borrowing money to do ordinary things like building a bridge or building a motor park. Just imagine what is circulating on social media: NIMASA; Accountant General of the Federation Humongous amounts in somebody’s personal account? And don’t forget that we still go to China to borrow money which disappears in the MDAs. So, that kind of money that they raised, I mean those presidential aspirants, you people in the press can help us tabulate it for the world to see. Also tabulate the amount of all the numbers that picked forms for governorship, Senate, House of Representatives, House of Assembly etc, then you can see the billions that the political parties have collected. Let’s just put the amount at N40 billion at least. With such money you can build a railway from Port Harcourt to Enugu, one branch going to Abakaliki, another branch going to Makurdi, and then joining in Abuja. They will tell you the youths should be part of politics, and we know that most young men cannot afford this money, so how can they be part of this politics? Where will they get the money to survive in the system? So, by raising the amount to such a humungous level you are simply saying: We don’t want poor people around us, we don’t want youths, we don’t want even the women. How can an intelligent woman who is the wife of somebody and who probably retired as a headteacher or as a nurse, but wants to go into politics to serve, where is she going to get such money to be part of politics? So, the amount of money that the two parties (APC, PDP), for instance, have fixed for collecting form, shows the class structure of politics in Nigeria, the oligarch has taken over. I presented some of these issues in my book. The thing is that these people have such a short-term view of politics because they are only thinking about the next election.
Do you have fears for this country?
Fears? I am scared by what I forsee. We are like a lorry that is on a precipice, the two front wheels are already on the edge and the back ones are up in the air, what will happen now is that as soon as there is a little earth movement it will tip over and fall into the precipice. Do you get the picture? Do you know what pushed Yugoslavia into civil war in 1990? Serbia started pushing for Greater Serbia , challenge by the Croats etc. Before the world knew what was happening, the killings had turned into a full scale war with so many fronts. We are now in danger of suffering the same fate. We are suggesting that the best thing to do is to stop the charade they call election. Instead, let us call a Sovereign National Conference to restructure this country before the deluge starts. And the restructuring has to be in the form of a sovereign national conference so that the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria can all come together and decide how we are going to live together in peace not pieces. To do that, what I am suggesting is that we start by giving the existing six geo-political zones recognition in the constitution and let each geo-political zone form its parliament. Prorogue the National Assembly and let all of them leave Abuja and go back to the people who elected them and form a regional assembly or a zonal assembly, or whatever you want to call it and then ask their people: What do you want in Nigeria? What arrangements would you like to see in order to have one political entity called Nigeria? Do you want to stay or do you want to get out? Do you want to share Nigeria or do you want to pull out your resources etc? This is the basic function of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) because what is at stake is Nigeria’s sovereignty which the British people gave to Nigeria as a whole. We start again by laying down the grundnorm for living together. When the British gave us this sovereignty they did not ask Yoruba people, Igbo, Hausa people, Hausa, Fulani, Urhobo, Tiv, Efiks, Ibibios etc, whether they will like to surrender the sovereignty they had before they, the British came to Nigeria. They simply assumed it no longer exists. So, it is in a Sovereign National Conference that we, the people will decide what to do. Not as some Northern groups had approached the courts to decide for Ndigbo, no. It is at a conference that all of us have to agree on the conditions and procedure for exiting Nigeria for any group not just Ndigbo or Ndi Yoruba. The British did something like that in the late 1940s, which culminated in the 1950 Ibadan Conference. By the time we got to 1960 some people opted out, parts of the Sardauna province, for instance, which is now part of Adamawa, joined Cameroun. Southern Cameroon left Eastern Nigeria to join West Cameroon. Why can’t we do that again? We sit down and trash out these things. I heard in the news, but I didn’t read it in the newspaper that the Northern Elders asked the Supreme Court to decide whether Igbo should leave, no, that was very wrong. It is not a court matter, it is a matter for Sovereign National Conference. Come to think of it , the first people to leave Nigeria were the Northerners in 2001 and 2002, when some Northern states declared that they are Sharia states. It was prima facie, a rejection of the 1999 Constitution which states, I think in Section 10 that no state can declare a state religion. By that action all the 12 Sharia states technically are no longer part of Nigeria.
The security challenge in Anambra State is deeply worrisome…?
(Cuts in) It’s all connected with what I am saying. When you allow each group to go and organise themselves, organise their they will equally organise their security system. Who are the people causing mayhem in Anambra, do you know them? Everything is guess work, even the police say they do not know them, the army doesn’t know, the does not know them – unknown…, it may be vendetta, it may be agent provocateurs planted in Anambra by the enemies of Ndigbo or even the Federal Government. There are so many unknowns in the security equation in looking at what is happening there. Some are saying look at what is happening in Anambra, look at what is happening in the Southeast and the Igbo people are saying that they want to be president when their area is on fire and not safe. That is what I call de-marketing of Ndigbo. We know ourselves. They will say that the Igbo people have no peace, and yet they have Boko Haram everywhere in the Northeast, where they also want the president to come from. What is causing the problem in Anambra is simply because they have not allowed the Igbo, the Yoruba or the Ijaw etc to rule themselves.
So, what is your message?
So, my message is: let us suspend this election. Instead, let us go for a Sovereign National Conference and decide whether Nigeria is to be or not to be. To misquote Albert Einstein, “You cannot be doing the same thing that created the problem in the first place and expect a different result each time”. There is a need to suspend this election, and do the right things first, which for now as I see it, is the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, and during its life (six to 12 months) we have an interim formed at the zonal level from where each zone sends its best to run its affairs. If we insist on conducting the election the way things are now, I can tell you, the in-fighting among the power-seekers may tip the lorry over the precipice. That is what happened in Yugoslavia. It will be difficult to guarantee the continued existence of this country. Better part in peace than in pieces.