By Willy Eya
As President Muhammadu Buhari struggles with his anti-corruption war, one of those solidly in support of him is former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Dozie Ikedife. He believes that the fight against corruption must be won if the nation must move forward. In this interview, he speaks on various national issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of president Buhari’s administration so far?
President Muhammadu Buhari has just started, having been only seven months in office. He is doing very well. There are certain things that should be removed from the body politic of this country-impunity, lawlessness, misappropriation of public funds as if it is somebody’s father’s property. These things are negative. They should not be allowed to continue. In broad language, you call that corruption. And I think Buhari is fighting corruption head on. I can tell you that I do not know of any leader among the presidential possibles that could face corruption with the ruthlessness that Buhari is demonstrating. I think we should give him maximum support. I do not know any country that has made progress because it is the most corrupt one. Nigeria requires cleansing. People may say it is one sided but you move from one to the other. You cannot tackle all at the same time. What you do is that you move from one to the other. People are accusing Buhari of witch hunting. Then if you are afraid, it means you must be a witch. If you are not a witch, you should not be afraid of witch hunters. If you have no skeleton in your cupboard, you have no reason to fear about witch hunting and you would not be scared when somebody wants to look into it. Somebody was quoted as saying that the fear of Buhari is the beginning of wisdom. I think that if he is allowed to go through with his cleansing process, before people would start looting again, they would think twice. After all, what will people do with all these amount of money they are amassing? It is mind boggling. One person will have not only billions but trillions. What is such a person going to do with it? One short breath that stops, that is the end of it. You will not take one kobo across to the other side. So, why this limitless propensity for acquisition of wealth! I know it is the fear of insecurity that people are trying to acquire to secure their future. Anything in excess is bad. Even something that is good, if it is done in excess, it is bad. The pursuit of money and power in excess is bad. So, let us give Buhari maximum encouragement. Whoever has stolen money should bring it back and I am sure you will be let off. If you think you want to acquire the whole nation or state’s money because you think that you are the only person alive or that you have the opportunity, then you have to think again.
A major issue worrying many Nigerians is the downturn in our economy; even those who are die hard supporters of Buhari seem to agree that the present administration is not doing well in improving the nation’s economy. What is your take on that?
I think those who are saying the economy under Buhari is not doing well are judging too prematurely. In balancing an equation, there must be certain things that are known, then you would be able to balance the equation and find the unknown and balance the equation. The global economy is turbulent. It is not just Nigeria and you know that this country is part of the world yet. The oil glut and crashing of the oil price is universal; it is not only the Nigerian oil that is affected. The Stock Exchange all over the world is turbulent. It is behaving like a bull in a China shop. You are not sure whether it is going this way or that way. All I think we need is a little bit of patience. If the price of oil settles or stabilizes, then you would know whether you are getting N10 or one million Naira. It is then you can say this is where I am going and what I can do and what I cannot do. Encouragement being given to these non-oil sources of revenue, it is a great and positive thing. Remember, before oil, Nigeria was thriving on purely agricultural products –palm oil, cotton, ground nut and cocoa. These were the main exports and of course other mineral resources. They were the main sources of foreign revenue. Nigeria was doing relatively well. Then when the oil came, we abandoned many of these things. We even import palm oil from Malaysia who only recently came to borrow palm nuts from us to go and plant in their country. Over dependence on oil has made us lazy and the pummeling and falling of the oil price is a wakeup call for all of us. Let us go back to Agriculture. We have a teeming population of about 170 million people. We must at least be able to feed ourselves. Any father who is not able to feed his family is regarded as an infidel, a failure. He is a lazy father. Nigeria should be able to feed herself and import limited things that it cannot produce. And look at even our oil. We are not in control of it. The foreign countries will come, take our crude oil, refine it to various products and send them back to us as imports and usually very costly. So, in essence, they control our economy. Oil refinery is a simple chemistry. Why can’t we refine our oil? Even the people who do illegal refinery, you can employ them. Encourage them and give them employment instead of punishing them. Oil refinery is not Rocket science. During the Biafran war, Biafrans were blockaded and they were refining and distilling oil in crude environment and with crude equipment. Look at the refinery that we have now; none has ever worked at full capacity. When you do turnover maintenance, it looks as if it is just a joke. We, as a country should be more serious and look inwards. What annoys me is that most of them who loot the nation’s treasury don’t invest it in Nigeria.
Some ex-militants are threatening to start bombing oil pipelines and facilities if the Federal Government does not release Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). What is your take on that?
Did they become militants because Nnamdi Kanu was detained I do not know much about the intricacies of detention and release. So, I do not want to go into that. But anybody who has sympathy for him has a right to be. I would not like to go into it without knowing the full facts. But I believe in peaceful negotiation and not war. I do not believe in fighting. We do not believe in threats or hauling insults to individuals or groups. We do not believe in preaching ethnic hatred. We believe in legal and diplomatic approach using the United Nations pronouncement on the rights of indigenous people for self determination. But for warfare or threat of war, no. For insulting people or preaching ethnic hatred, no. For threatening individuals who do not agree with us, no.
Do you agree with those who insist that the agitations by both IPOB and MASSOB started because of the seeming indifference of President Buhari’s government to the South East geo-political zone?
That is not correct because the main arm of IPOB which started this agitation again has been there since 2012 and taken Nigeria to the federal court to give interpretation to the United Nations on the rights of indigenous people for self determination. That time, former President Jonathan was on seat and their case was thrown out on technical ground. They went back to court in 2013 and President Jonathan was still on seat. They have been making their case not by disobedience to any law but through legal process. And the case they took to court is still pending. But you must know that there are what I may call sins that add to sins but to say that it is because President Buhari won or that President Jonathan lost is totally wrong. I emphasise that it is totally wrong. MASSOB started about 12 years ago or thereabout by Ralph Uwazuruike. It was not because of who was there, it was there even before former President Obasanjo’s time. So, to say that the agitation by MASSOB and IPOB now is because of Buhari is a wrong linkage. Other pro-Biafran movements had started long before 2015 when the election that brought Buhari was organised. Mind you that many people who are members of pro-Biafran movements are supporters of Buhari. Get it correct, many pro-Biafran movements’ members are supporters of Buhari and are also members of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
But from your vantage position, do you think that the whole idea of Biafra Republic is realizable?
I am not a clairvoyant but many people have been talking about the possibility of fragmentation and it is not far-fetched. If you look at it, there is already the Sharia law. It is not also a hidden matter that the Oduduwas, people in the South West are ready to go.
It is not a hidden matter; they have made it public that they have made their National anthem, their constitution and structure of government. If they are not seriously thinking of going, why should they be thinking in that direction?
In the South East and South South regions, you could also see the agitation. All these are facts on the ground. You do not need a soothsayer to tell you that the desire is universal. It is just a question of how. I pray that however it is done, it will be without spinning of anybody’s blood”.
I know that the idea of Biafra is realizable but I do not know the time. Look at what happened in the United Kingdom. The people of Scotland organized a referendum whether they would still remain as part of the United Kingdom or whether they would opt out of it.
There were no fights or abuses. It was done peacefully and it was narrowly lost by 45 to 55 percent for and against. There are other places like East Timor. Look at Southern Sudan that has been fighting for a long time. They have got theirs about three years ago.
So, it is realizable in the light of United Nations posture on the rights of indigenous people to self determination. But the permanent members of the United Nations would not succeed anybody who is talking of war for self determination.
War is a primitive approach to the matter. War is reprehensible. Even if you go to war, you will still sit down to discuss. So why go and waste lives and destroy properties. It is better to talk. That is why the group has gone to talk. It is not to start insulting or abusing people.