Chief Guy Ike Ikokwu, is a Legal Practitioner and a Second Republic Chairman of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) in Anambra State. In this interview with Peterclaver Egbochue, he harps on the need fore the present administration to restructure the country on the basis of the last National Conference report before the National Assembly among other issues. Excerpts:
In terms of position in the current political dispensation, do you see Ndigbo occupying sensitive positions?
It is not a question of Ndigbo occupying top positions. The constitution of the country has to be implemented and the constitution of the country provides for federal character, that is a spread of positions. Even if one zone has the best of materials for all the positions, ministerial, directorate and so on, all in one state, that state cannot constitutionally occupy all the various positions. It can only occupy what is due to them under the constitution. So the constitution provides for a spread and the spread does not necessarily mean you must belong to the political party of the ruling party or the opposition and you do not need to be a politician to occupy a seasoned position in the public service or otherwise. For instance, Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance and coordinating minister for the economy, obviously did some good job and was well reputed and she was the former World Bank Managing Director, but she was not a politician. Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, another former minister was not a politician when she was made a minister and occupied various ministries, the last being education. Prof. Charles Soludo, was not a politician, he is a financial expert and an economist when he was made the Central Bank Governor, which is an important position. He was not given that position because he belonged to a particular party or represents this particular tribe as such but he is an Igbo man.
Would you say that Ndigbo fared well under former President Jonathan in terms of infrastructural development?
Well, when you say whether Ndigbo fared well, mention the actual infrastructure and see to what extent was it distributed in other parts of the country and to what extent has it affected the ones in the east. In some respects, yes, in some other respects, not quite, in some other respects, it is on-going. So, infrastructure is a large word, it encompasses a lot of things.
Let’s narrow it down to federal roads within the South-east. Did they get the attention of the federal government in this respect?
They got the attention but probably not a 100 per cent the states actually desired. When you talk about a zone, the states within the zone must coalesce their efforts to demand and get what is due to them. We know that in some aspects, the states in the zone can get the permission of the federal to do certain things, which are federal for the federal to reimburse them later on. So it is a question of, to what extent is it coordinated and to what extent has it been achieved. We are talking, for instance, the second Niger Bridge. The second Niger Bridge is not for the Southeast alone. It is not south-easterners alone that will use it or even the present bridge. Those coming from North-central use it, even those coming from the Northeast, from the South-south and from other parts of the country. So it is a communication avenue for many states not just the South-east alone. And we in the South-east still say that there should be a rail link on the South. At the moment, all the rail links are from South to north-from south-east to north, south-south to north or from Lagos to north and the clamour is that there should be one from the south-south linking Calabar down to Lagos. It is going to cut across many states, like the rail line from the South to the north and the one from the east to the north and it is a justified clamour because that main infrastructure, rail line carries a lot of goods and we know that there’s a lot of transportation going from Lagos to Onitsha and from Onitsha to Port Harcourt because the ports in those areas are not enhanced. Almost 80 per cent of importation activities are done from Lagos, which should not be so. But the rail infrastructure was defeated by Nigerians who wanted to go into haulage as a result of the civil war and they now put on very heavy trailers and tankers which are not necessarily meant for the road conditions that we have. So you have a dilapidation of the roads. So you can imagine how many times the road from Lagos to Ibadan, on that express has been subjected to repairs, which are still going on now. So these are the things people have to concentrate on and develop. It does not matter who is governing the country, it is for the good of the economy of the country. In countries like India, China, USA and Russia, railway carries almost 70 per cent of the haulage traffic for long distances across and it is not subject to this kind of accidents we see on the roads. It is one of the safest means of travelling and carrying goods, whether oil or other merchandises or even people. You put an air-conditioned railway carriage, a couch, what am I doing carrying my car to Onitsha or Port Harcourt? So these are the things our people have to look ahead to in future and pursue it with doggedness and not just saying it and leaving it for another person to do. So, if you talk more about the Igbos or the South-east, there has to be a coordinated action plan of the states in the zone.
Sir, given the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria, what should be the ideal constitution to adopt?
You see, at the moment, what we have in this country is a unitary-federalism and there is no such thing that is viable in the constituency of the world as a unitary-federalism. It is like saying that you have a monarchy system. Any country, which is multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-geographical and in Nigeria, geographically, we spread from the desert up north to the mangrove down south. Intellectually, there is difference- some very educated sections, some least educated sections, some industrialised sections, some less-industrialised sections, some very agricultural sections, some non-agricultural especially where the agriculture is for subsistence. That is not national agriculture; it does not engender employment as such. But any nation that is heterogeneous and that is the key word should practice true federalism and that is what Nigeria needs. True federalism involves what we call fiscal federalism. It’s not just political federalism and then fiscally, it won’t be a federal structure. So, it is the military that brought this about, else military, present military have corrupted our political system. That is the issue and we have to get out of that political and constitutional corruption to practice what our founding fathers had appreciated. Our founding fathers are; Zik, Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, J.S Tarka, Aminu Kano, Denis Osadebe and so on and it took them years to get to this and even made self sacrifices, which is why Zik, for instances, did not become an executive President of the country and preferred even in a federal structure to be a non-executive head of state. That issue is very significant. Awolowo believed in regionalism, Zik believed and agreed in regionalism, the founding father in the north, Ahmadu Bello, believed in regionalism. And it is important for today’s citizens to note and understand that the economies of our regions in those days grew faster than the present economy of the post regional government since the end of the civil war. Nigeria is growing at between 4 to 7 per cent even in the presence of oil but our former regional governments in a truly federal set up were growing at 8 to 9 percent and faster than so many other countries. And they were operating a non-oil economy, which was diversified. Do you know that there are still some countries in the world who live on just their agrarian exports; on coca nut, on groundnut, on palm kernel or rubber? They grow on those agricultural products. In Ethiopia, they are growing on coffee, some are growing on tea, they do not have oil, and they do not have mineral deposits. But Nigeria is, ‘shall we say God’s creation’ in that when you come to the power sector, there is no sort of power Nigeria does not have-Nigeria has water, Nigeria has oil, Nigeria has Gas, Nigeria has coal, Nigeria has sun light for solar energy. So we can build dams, we can provide gas turbines, we can provide all sorts of energy. As the world is now developing bio-fuel and bio-energy, Nigeria, like Brazil can become a bio-fuel country, using palm oil to drive your cars like Malaysia is doing now. Malaysia came to Nigeria to learn how to grow palm kernel and palm oil and now they use their palm oil, distil it in a way that it is a non-pollutant bio-fuel. You go to Cuba, they use sugar cane, America has started using it also. But we have sugar cane in Nigeria, which is being exported now by Dangote and others in massive scale. So why this oil, oil? What are you looking for oil in Lake Chad? For pollution and so on? Whereas in the north, you have a lot of land that you can use sugar cane to produce bio-fuel, a pure fuel that does not carbonate the airs, that runs your engines whether aero plane, trains or cars in a way that is different from the crude oil menace that we have now. We are now talking of climate change, isn’t Nigeria going to be part of the climate change? How can we in Sokoto, for the past 30 years have a zone in Sokoto, which is by the federal government enabled to analyse solar energy and till today, you do not have solar appliances from Sokoto, whereas Israel, which does not have crude oil supply uses solar energy in every house. They put it on top of their houses and use it to generate the electricity for their television, washing machines and so on. Even though in Israel, they do not have sunlight for 24/7 but in Nigeria, we have almost 24/7. So, these are the critical matters, which a truly federal structure can develop. That is what we call diversification. The Jonathan administration started the diversification;the Buhari administration should go on top of it and expand and do more. That is what we call continuity in governance. You don’t draw a stoppage and throw the other ones away. How do you throw away the baby with the berth water? You don’t.
What is the way forward?
Nigeria has to understand this thing. It has nothing to do with whether you are Igbo, Fulani or Housa.
Talking about introducing a true federal constitution, the last constitutional conference produced what can be called a template. Do you see the current administration implementing the report?
Let me just tell you something right now, we are at the critical moment now in the governance of the country. The first criteria, which Buhari brought about that he would solve in Nigeria is insecurity. And everyday you ask him, the first thing he says is insecurity and he has started to face insecurity. He has asked the Army to relocate to Maiduguri, he has visited the neighbouring counties of Niger, Chad and he is also going to Cameroun and he has said he would call a conference with the people in Benin that surrounds Nigeria. He has also gone to the G7 meeting to ask all the Europeans and other world powers to help Nigeria particularly on the issue of insecurity, which is a global issue and not just a Nigerian issue. Good, let him go on because if you solve the problem of insecurity, you stabilize the economy and you get more direct foreign investments, you reduce the unemployment situation and the economy grows. That’s one. The other one is constitutional, to restructure Nigeria. Jonathan also started with that as he did with the insecurity matter, which Buhari is now taking out. As a former soldier, he is in a good position to advance the issue of security. Jonathan also went on the issue of restructuring the country and called a conference, which held in Abuja. He is not the first person who did it; Abacha tried, Obasanjo tried but in each, they linked it to their own personal interest and it failed. The one that was done in Aburi failed because Gowon linked it to his own personal interest between him and Ojukwu. But we advised Jonathan seriously and he called the confab and they produced a report on what they agreed on, a structure that is very close to a true federalism, that is close to fiscal federalism, close to devolution of powers from the centre down ward. Local governments cannot be a federal matter unless it is a unitary government. Local governments must go back to the grassroots of states or zones. Jonathan was told that before you leave, let your Federal Executives Council (FEC) adopt this report, which they did before the elections and the FEC is made up of the whole Nigerians-North, East, South and West and they adopted it and he handed over the report to the National Assembly. The document is now on top of Saraki’s table. So, it is a legislative matter and not an executive matter because the NASS had already tried to amend the constitution, which Jonathan faulted and refused to endorse and they were now thinking of to surpass his veto and all that which didn’t end up and the judiciary told them to go and harmonise the matter. So that document is now on top of Saraki’s table. And I will tell you right away luckily Saraki has Ekweremadu by his side who was the chairman of the constitutional amendment over the years. He is an expert who knows all about the details. Nigerians are giving them 100 days to finish with that report, endorse it and restructure this country so that Nigeria can move. And mark my words, without restructuring this country on the basis of that confab report and even more, this country will not move and no magician whether from the presidency, legislature or the judiciary can move Nigeria forward. This country will move into the abyss and towards disintegration as a failed nation. And I am happy to say that most people in the north-central believe that this country should be restructured now, not tomorrow so that within the next four years, we will start to catch up with the things we have lost as a nation-whether in agriculture, whether in unemployment, in job creation, in quality education, in industrialization, in moral behaviour, or for ethos on good governance so that this country can grow by at least 12 per cent. If Nigeria grows at 12 per cent for the next 20 years, Nigeria will be one of the developed countries of the world.
What do you make of the drama that characterized the emergence of Saraki and Dogara as Senate president and Speaker respectively?
People call it drama, Buhari himself called it a constitutional matter and what happened at the National Assembly followed the precept of the constitution. Once you are elected as a legislator, you no longer represent just your constituency, you represent the country, you go there and touch things that will serve the country in good stead. It’s as simple as that. So those who say that they are boycotting the national assembly or the state assembly were foolhardy.