Although he is of the civil society, National coordinator, Human Rights Writers, Emmanuel Nwabiko, in this interview with nationalTRAIL editors accuses President Muhammadu Buhari of bias and outright neglect the Igbo people of the South East, and insists that such must be corrected. He also spoke on several other national issues, as well as that of the indigenous people of the Federal Capital Territory. Excerpts.
In this very critical times, Nigeria is facing so much crisis, we think that the civil society would have been so very active in trying to point out the way forward, there is so much docility in the system, why is civil society inactive in pointing out the way Nigeria should be and you are one of the leaders?
I think the civil society community in Nigeria is not docile, but maybe I think just a section of the civil society community in Nigeria has affiliated itself to the government of the day that is just what has happened, in fact the significant percentage of the civil society leaders that are outspoken and are reputable in terms of years of service to the civil society sector for a very long period of time, we are invited to a particular platform that is affiliated to, but then when APC was about to be formed so many meetings were held while people who later created APC were fratenising with prominent members of the civil society and PDP within their own national hierarchy were busy registering fake, ghost NGOs, that is the problem, but when APC became APC from the alliances of other parties, Tinubu was a civil society person and a stakeholder (cuts in an advocate), yes, am talking about Bola Tinubu now, so all those members from the civil society were galvanized into a particular platform with some people, if I mention their names you will know them, they always hold meetings to strategies on how to guide the party that was about to be formed and they succeeded and luckily for those people who agree to stay in that platform, the party that was created out of those alliances that later became APC won the election, so you expect any of them to speak out against the people they helped to nurture?.
So will you now say that as a country under APC, Nigeria is really forging ahead?
APC is just less than a year in power, so you don’t expect me to give a considerable response to that, but if I want to borrow from the founding fathers of philosophy, it said the most important step in every enterprise is the first step, which means first impression matters a lot, so if we want to talk from the point of view of the impression, I think the government has not really started given out the dividends of democracy to Nigerians, Nigerians have not really started getting benefit from the government.
Who will you point out particularly to be the issue that has caused this backwardness in what we are experiencing. What really is the problem?
Nigeria’s problem, just like what Chinua Achebe said is purely that of leadership, we don’t yet have…
(cuts in), you think the President is not yet prepared for leadership?
The president himself for a very long period of time, more than 12 years have been campaigning to become the president, but Nigerians are really very surprised that nine months after the current administration came to power, that is taking a lot of time, almost eternity for things to begin to work out positively for them, so Nigerians are very surprised that it appears the government in power, that is the stakeholders in this very government, some of them didn’t prepare adequately for business of governance, but as per the president himself, President Muhammadu Buhari, I think compared to any Nigerian, living or dead who has canvassed, who has worked adequately to become the president of this country, so I am really a bit surprise that Nigerians are asking that the president should wake up and give Nigerians the proper leadership that we deserve.
What is exactly the problem?
The problem everyone know is there is disunity everywhere, there is instability, there is insecurity in terms of lives and property, Nigerians are not really safe in their homes, they are not safe in their farms, Fulani herdsmen are all over the place, killing people everywhere, killing farmers in Benue State, so many other states like Taraba, Plateau and even Enugu, so this Fulani herdsmen are creating a lot of national security problem for this government and this government has not fully grabs it properly, have not really implemented or unfolded the proper solutions, perhaps to the increasing and widespread specter of mass killings and cases of insecurity all over the country, and if you don’t have a very secure environment, the economy cannot grow.
Cuts in… it also affect investors?
Of course! no investor will put his or her money in a place where you are not too sure if you are going to derive benefits, because investments are all about profitability, you cannot make profit in an atmosphere of insecurity
If you are going to make a difference, you are a man that is known as a game changer, assuming you are place in a position of President Muhammadu Buhari, what difference will you do differently?
It is not possible for me, that is a political question and that cannot be answered that straight, but what I will say, if I am asked to advise the president, what I will say, I think what the president need to do first of all, I just penned an article on what the president should do, the president need to become a unifier and not the person who creates divisions among the various nationalities we have in this country.
First and foremost, the president needs to treat every component part of this country as his constituency; the president may have been misadvised abi nitio, if you look at the first interview he granted when he visited United States of America, the president said, you don’t expect me to treat the five percent, that means out of 100 percent, there is a particular region that gave him over 95 percent votes, you don’t want me to treat those people the same way with the people that gave him five percent, of course, he was referring to the South East of Nigeria and South South, the 95 percent, he is talking about is the North and the South West, but I think the president is wrong, because the moment you became a president, you are no longer the president of those people that voted for you.
If Buhari wanted to favour only the 95 percent who voted for him, how many people really voted for him in actual facts, he didn’t get more than 15 million votes, I think he got about 14 million votes and PDP got about 12 million votes, so if he is going to treat 95 percent of those who voted for him, so the people he is talking about will not be more than 14 million people and how many million do we have in Nigeria, we have about 60 million Nigerians, so the president is not really been fair to a lot of Nigerians.
First, he constituted his defence council, a lot of Nigerians don’t really know what is called national defence council, when you talk about national defence council, many will say, it is an economic council, because they are not aware, there is a body in the constitution that talks about national defence council, that body is the one that takes the last decision on any issue, if for instance, this country is going to war with another country, it is that body that will tell the president where to bomb, it is like a war room, it is the final body as far as our national defence security is concerned, and we have more than 50 million people, (the Igbos in Nigeria are more than 50 million), if you have 160 million Nigerians, of course we have the three most dominant ethnic nationality in Nigeria: Yorubas, Hausas and Igbos, the Igbos are over 50 million according to the precise census they did, they gave the Igbos about 38 million, but in the real sense of it, there are over 50 million people and 50 million out of 150 million and you don’t even have a representative at the national defence council, so tomorrow, you can sit and decide to bomb the South East and the Igbos will not be there to defend that decision and their people…
Cuts in… has it been constituted?
Long time ago, it is assumed it has been constituted, because there are people that formed the national defence council; we have the president himself which of course is the chairman of the council, we have the service chiefs as members of the Defence Council and other civilian member of the defence council is the Minister of Defence and Minister of Justice, Inspector General of Police is part of the defence council, there are up to 10 and among all these people, there is no single Igbo speaking officer.
In fact some of us thought the president will amend his ways by appointing an Igbo person as Minister of Defence, even the only Igbo man he trusted so much, Ogbonna Onu, he couldn’t even give him the defence portfolio, he gave him one inconsequential place he posted him to where he is talking about how to create crayon, pencil, that is the position he gave to an Igbo man. Why couldn’t Buhari give his trusted friend as the minister of defence, so that he can bridge the gap between him and the Igbo nation, look, let me tell you, that is even one of the reason why a lot of boys are joining this IPOB, a lot of people don’t… why will anybody want to leave Nigeria, why will an Igbo man want to leave Nigeria…
Okay, let me tell you, the same Buhari is been castigated that he has not even favoured any part of the country?
Anybody that says that, maybe that person has taken the highest quality of palm wine from Udi in Enugu State, anybody who says that Buhari has not favoured any particular person, go and check that person must have taken palm wine, maybe when he wakes up the next day, he will speak the truth, how can you say Buhari has not favoured any particular side, No, the North East in particular has been favoured, the North East has over three people out of eight-member national defence council; such as Buratai, there is another defence chief and National Security Adviser, then in terms of even the recent appointment that the President has made, Kano State alone cornered over 30 percent, the Vice Chancellors posted to those Goodluck Jonathan’s Universities, so nobody can say he has not favoured anybody, then in Katsina State, he has favoured his own people, the Daura people, if you go to Katsina State, maybe the Katsina people will say he has not favoured them, but I agree with you, but the Katsina people are complaining that he has only favoured his Daura people.
Katsina is also divided into different sections, Daura is like the minority where the president comes from, people are alleging that the President has cornered all the federal government appointments to that his small area and the main Katsina, none of them has gotten anything.
What do you think we can do now?
We cannot do anything, the president has to amend his ways, he has to really listen to people, or alternatively people should go to court, like yesterday, I read the papers today that a group has decided to challenge the President for not appointing any Igbo man as a member of the national defence council, it is something that my NGO has been clamouring for a very long time, we have been complaining using the media that the president should amend his ways.
Fortunately for the president, we don’t have enough finance to go to court, but unfortunately the people we are fighting for, that is Igbos, a group has now come out to file a case, the case is already before a Federal High Court to determine whether it does not amount to a breach of federal character principle that the president will scheme out a zone out of that defence council, in fact to even tell you, even the Akwa Ibom people, that is the Efik, they have representative at the national defence council.
Now that we have seen all these loopholes, where would you want the president to make amends that is not enough, but the economy is also downturn, what is the way forward?
The economy of Nigeria, Dangote says people who say the economy is bad are exaggerating, I think I will go with the position of Dangote because he is an employer of labour, but I think we have to get back to the drawing board and take measures that will upgrade and promote the real sector, that is the manufacturing sector, because Nigeria seems to be so much dependent on foreign products, no country in any part of this world can sustainably grow her economy if virtually everybody in that country depends on import for the survival, even the smallest country you can ever think of, they have become great today because of their productivity, a country like Japan, Japan is a very small country, it is not bigger than FCT, you put all the FCT lands, all the landmarks of Japan is not as big as FCT, 50 percent of Japan is made of high seas, and their typography is very unfriendly in terms of natural disasters and all of that, but Japan has been able to form that country to become a world power today in areas of their productivity and their brain.
Nigeria has to really develop their manpower, we have good enough percentage of manpower that is already sophisticated and developed, we need to harnessed such things…
Cuts in… People are talking of agriculture as the way forward…
Agriculture is also very important, agriculture is one of the way to grow our economy, agriculture is not the only sector that can grow our economy, the most strategic sector that can make Nigeria the most respected country in the world is the human capital resources; manpower, the quantum of talents we have in this country, if they are properly harnessed, encouraged, if Nigeria can encourage research, Nigeria government has not created the enabling environment to encourage research.
Those who are scientists are finding it very difficult to move the products of their creativity, their invention, they find it very difficult to move it from mere inventions to commercial level, the most developed countries of the world have become what they are today because of their inventions, because their governments, like America, China, Japan, Britain and the rest of them have been able to create good enough environment and atmosphere to encourage their inventors to grow.
Think again, the government has created a lot of platforms for investors to move around, there is the automotive industry, there is also the policy on small and medium scale enterprising, where again do you think there is a missing link?
The government has a lot of agencies, those agencies are just there to create job for the boys, ok let me even tell you, you are talking about an automotive agency, yes, I agree with you, we have a lot of local manufacturers, like the Innoson Motor industry, the Nnewi based manufacturing and assembling of cars has been able to achieve a lot of remarkable feats, I just read in the press that the government is trying to bring in the Chinese to bring in their mass transit buses, why would a government of Buhari not promote local content, why would they go as far as the China, to purchase a product, the buses that are made in China, when you have buses that are build right under your nose in Nigeria, in Nnewi, Lagos where they manufacture this kind of buses, even in Kaduna, if you don’t want to buy from Nnewi (cuts in… even in Bauchi), yes, so why should the president even contemplate involving the Chinese to bring their buses, when we have a local car assembling plant that we should encourage, you don’t buy made in Nigeria and you are going to China to buy Chinese products, even if the Chinese people are actually the people you are looking up to fund the budget, even if you went and borrow $2bn from the Chinese to run part of the deficits you have in this budget, that does not make it right, we are not slaves, if we are borrowing from a particular creditor, part of the conditionality should not be that you are spending part of the money in enriching their economy, it is no longer done…
Do you think that the president is not well advised?…
The president does not seem to, maybe he is not properly advised, or if he is advised, he does not implement those policies because, first and foremost, why should a government that has been in place for nine months still be facing the issue of whether the government has the economic team or not, it is unheard of, it has never happen in this country, where you have the president in place, Nigerians don’t even know whether he has an economic adviser or not, or whether he has an economic team, this is the first time in Nigeria that people, even the market women are arguing about the president’s economic team.
Government is trying to just know what it can do, to a point that a man who is not an economists, a literature person now have to suggest to the government that it need to organise an economic conference, the government now has bought into the agenda of that writer who is not even an economist, the government now wants to organise a conference. The solution to Nigeria’s economic problem is not talk shop.
Is it belated?
It is not relevant, the economic conference is grandeurs, it will not achieve anything.
Fighting corruption is what has been driving whatever they called their change agenda, in the fight against corruption now, are they really doing the right thing?
Government is working very hard, as they claim to fight corruption but what most Nigerians are saying is that if you want to fight corruption, you must be broad based, for instance, are you going to focus on the campaign funds, expenses of one party, then what happen to the campaign expenditures of the other party, is not only one party that run for the presidential election, APC and PDP ran for the same office, why will you unleash EFCC on PDP and APC seems to be secure and immune from investigation.
How do the APC fund their presidential campaign, that questions has to be asked. Are they saying that some of the governors that people are accusing of diverting their state funds did not actually contribute to the presidential campaign of APC, because it is inconceivable that the party that is not in power to defeat a party that is in power, because the party that is not in power does not have the resources to campaign for election, it is not possible, because Nigeria is a large complex state that you need massive amount of resources to be able to cover the length and breadth of a complex nature of the country and people saw how APC presidential candidate was flying all over the place with exotic jets, apparently and clearly those jets did not belong to the government of the day, how do they get that.
Are you now saying that our electoral system are rife with corruption?
No, it is not so, what I am saying is that running for an election in any part of the world is capital intensive, in fact in America, before you even run for a primary, because in their primary you will run for more than six months, you start from ordinary member on the streets who are party members and card carrying members of the party will first of all go to merging, that is state by state campaign. American political system is very capital intensive; to a point that a man who couldn’t win up to 10 votes, that is Mr. Jeff Bush, a former state governor was said to have spend more than $135 million, change this to Naira, that amount can fund 30 states in Nigeria for one day, that is how one person spends trying to become a candidate of the Republican party, he could not even win his own state. So American politics is very expensive, so Nigerian politics cannot be less expensive that will give us politics, so in this case, Nigerian politics is not even as close enough to the expensive nature of American politics. It is quite expensive.
What we are saying is that you can’t play politics without money…?
You cannot play politics without money, because you need to campaign to sell your manifestoes to people, you need money to go from one point of the country to another point, it is not possible. Maybe except in heaven that you can campaign without money.
Okay, with this kind of scenario that you have pointed out, what then can we start doing to get a very clean political atmosphere?
What we need to do, like in the States, even though American politics is expensive, but still they have ceilings, they have a limited amount that cooperate bodies, individuals cannot donate to a candidate, they have put a ceiling, but in Nigeria, there is no ceiling, there is no way of finding out how much anybody is donating, but in America if you donate one kobo, it is registered, if you are going to donate money for a particular candidate, it must be receipted, they will give you receipt, if you are paying one kobo, they will be a receipt, everyone knows at once a receipt enters the system is already known, how much this so and so person is donating, so you cannot donate above the ceiling that the government of America has set, and it has already gotten out to the congress, but in Nigeria, there is even no law, the Independent National Electoral Commission is not independent enough, they are incapable, they are not competent, they are so compromised, they cannot even enforced the rules that governs campaign financing.
The last presidential election that was doped free and fair and all that, from the judgments coming out from election petition tribunals, will we still say that that election was free and fair?
Last election like most elections in Nigeria in most part of the country were disputed, maybe the presidential election was the only one that was not disputed, because maybe the person that was defeated felt that there was no need for him to go to court, he just wanted peace in country, so he eased himself out. I am talking about the PDP presidential candidate who was the incumbent president, apparently he didn’t want to go to court, because he wanted Nigerians to have peace, but it is natural in Nigeria for a politician who losses election to go to court, it is a natural thing, and you cannot use that to judge whether the election is free and fair. But one universal fact everybody knows is that Independent National Electoral Commission as it is constituted is not independent in anyway.
What do you think can make that body independent?
What can make the body independent is to remove the power of appointing the members, or the chairman from the office of the president, I think we need to cede that appointing authority to the National Assembly, it is only the organ of our democracy that pretends to represents the majority of the people…
Cuts in (pretend)?…
Oh yes!, they pretend because in actual fact some of them got to where they are today not through fairness.
The unbundling of the NNPC, stakeholders are kicking and some oil workers went on a day strike, will the unbundling solve the problem in NNPC?
Well, those who know have their reasons for canvassing for the unbundling of NNPC, personally as a Nigerian, I think the concern of this government should not be the unbundling, if what they mean by unbundling means to split NNPC into smaller companies, whereby those companies will be sold to private owners, I think it is wrong; because if you look at the examples of what has happen to us, in electricity power sector, it is already a failure, people don’t have light more than how many years after the power sector was privatised and you cannot explain that a sector that has already been privatised is still going cap in hand to the CBN to receive almost free money over the years.
CBN allocate a lot of facilities to these DISCOs and the rest of them, it means that privatisation exercise that was done in the power sector has not been a success, so if what is about to happen at NNPC or what has already happened, is going the way of what the electricity sector has turned out to be, it is unacceptable, and first and foremost, the National Assembly has to play a role in that. If you want to unbundle an agency of government that was created by states’ law, you also have to go back to the National Assembly for amendment.
You appeared to be an Igbo apologists, because you have said a few things that Igbos are marginalised and so on, it is worrying, giving your background as a civil society person, you are suppose to represent the whole Nigeria, why are you so concerned about the Igbo agenda?
The reason why I raised the matter of Igbo is because, that is the only thing that is in contention now, after all the Igbos are not the only one, the killings in Benue, I have talked about the killings by the Fulanis, that was the first thing I mention about, the reason why I talked about the issue of the Igbos is that, maybe you are not from that part of the country, if you are from that part of the country and you traveled down and see how that place is, you will weep for the people. The only things that you are going to see in the South East are just individual efforts, if you are an Igbo man, when you raised your money, what you are going to do is to go to your father’s house, raised a mansion, and that is all, there is no road leading to that your father’s house.
The federal government is not to be blame completely for the problems of underdevelopment in the South East. The blames are big enough to go round to everybody, even to myself as an individual who has decided to stay in Abuja, if you stay in Abuja as an Igbo man and you don’t take back the part of your income to the East to re-invest, you are also a problem to the South East, if an Igbo man will come to Lagos, settle in Lagos, make all the money in Lagos and spend all the money in Lagos, he is a terrible man, in fact, worse than even the person you are accusing of marginalising the Igbos, but self-marginalisation is the worst kind of marginalisation.
The Igbo underdevelopment is the major one, the Igbo question is important to talk about the fact that you have a national defence council and you have even ethnic nationalities that are not even big enough to constitute one local government in one of the five South East states, have a member in that body and people who constitute that so-called five states that the power that be has decided to give us, they don’t have a representative of Igbo there. Igbo’s right is human rights issue is also a Nigerian human rights issue, that is why I am talking about it.