Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, a former Minister of Aviation, is the only minister of Nigeria’s First Republic, who is still alive. He is 92 years presently but full of regrets that the Nigerian federation, which he is one of its founding fathers has derailed from the purpose for which it was founded as a united entity. In this interview with ECHEZONA OKAFOR, he looks at the numerous political challenges facing the South-East geopolitical zone and the need to recreate Nigeria
What is your take on the clamour by Ndigbo to produce Nigeria’s next president in 2023?
It is not the Igbo, who are agitating for the 2023 presidency; it is justice and equity. It is peace and continued unity of the federation of Nigeria that demand that the South-East, not Ndigbo, should have the chance, for the first time, to preside over this federation called Nigeria. It happens by accident that the South- East is made up of almost, totally Igbo speaking people.
So, some people make the mistake of saying Igbo presidency; it is the South-East that has been marginalized; because of the Biafran War. The Biafran War was fought mainly in Igboland but it was also fought in other states. There were battles in the then Midwestern Region because of the temporary creation of the Republic of Benin.
Battles were also fought in Port Harcourt, Ogoja, Calabar and other places but it happened that the engine house of the struggle was the heart of Igboland; that is the area that is now called the South-East.
Nigeria is a federation that is founded by the founding fathers and heroes after a very long and painful chains and series of negotiations, discussions, conferences as well as in the spirit of patriotism, and the spirit of give and take. Nigeria was founded on a tripod of the Northern Region, Western Region and Eastern Region.
The Eastern Region consisted of the present states of the South-East and the states of the South-South, excluding Edo and Delta. They include what we know today as Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states.
It happened that the military that ran the government of Nigeria over the years were drawn from the Northern Region; starting from Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and others.
All these are northerners, and they were the people that disorganised the Nigerian federation as founded by the founding fathers, which I am one of them. I was in the numerous meetings, negotiations and discussions and compromises that ultimately culminated into the independence of this entity called Nigeria.
These military men imposed on the federation of Nigeria, the constitution that is not a federal constitution. It is called a federation of Nigeria, but the features that should make the country a federation is not there. The states were arbitrarily created; not by negotiation, not with the participation of the people.
Apart from the defunct Mid-West, which was created according to the constitution, all other states in Nigeria today were created by military men, and these military men were people from one side of the country. Everything they did about states creation in Nigeria was lopsided.
This means that only one part of the country has been deciding the fate of Nigeria. This is not the way a federation is run. We have many countries of the world that are running federal constitution. A good example is the United States of America. But you don’t have in America, a situation, where some people or some states will be regarded or treated like slaves or second class citizens as the South-East is being treated in Nigeria.
The South-South would have been treated the same way in this country, but for the mere fact that the bulk of the oil, the wealth of the country, comes from there; otherwise, the tendency is for the North alone to continue to rule.
What would realization of a president of South-East extraction in 2023 mean to you and any other Igbo person?
Realization of Igbo presidency in 2023 will be a sort of renewal of friendship between the North and the South- East. But, again, I want to tell the people of the South-East that one doesn’t become president by merely wishing to be president or by merely shouting.
The constitution is silent about anything zoning. If Ndibo want to be president, you have to organize yourselves; you have to strategize. You must learn to make friends. Politics is a game of numbers. I don’t know how the friendship between the North and the South-East was destroyed.
In our time, we nurtured it right from the First Republic. Even when we came back to the Second Republic, in 1979, we continued to nurture the friendship.
Again, politics is a game of numbers.
We must not forget that the North has a good population. So, we must make friends in the North. What the South- East should do now is to engage the North and make friends with them.
The South-East has to tell them that they are not becoming president to fight them but that they are coming to be president of Nigeria for the good of everybody. Then, the Igbo must come back home to do some homework. They must make sacrifices, and above all, they must extend their hands across the Benue, and across the Niger.
You said that during your era, the South-East and North had a good political relationship; how did it work?
After the general election of December, 1963, the National Congress for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), agreed to share offices and work together in government.
The way it was done was that the leaders of the groups sat down and picked offices within themselves. The offices available were laid on the table; so, the NPC chose Prime Minister; NCNC chose Governor-General. In the legislature, the NPC chose Speaker of House of Representatives; NCNC chose Senate President. That was when Akweke Nwafor Orizu became first president of the Senate.
In the ministries, NPC chose Defence Ministry; NCNC chose Finance Ministry, and so on. That was how I became Aviation Minister in the First Republic. Everything was equitably shared in Nigeria then, and governance went on smoothly.
In 1979, during the era of Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), the sharing formula for political offices in Nigeria was also done on the basis of equity and friendship. For instance, the NPN took presidency of the Senate; while NPP took speakership of the House of Representatives.
That was when Rt. Hon. Edwin Ume-Ezeoke became Speaker of the House of Reps. That time was not the era of I will give you this, or I will not give you that. Our own time was the era of give and take; because we believed very well that this country belongs to all of us; not any one section or ethnic group.
It is a different story today. What we have today is winner takes all. It is a situation where somebody will become president; he will assemble people from his clan into his government, while other Nigerians will be left out. In our own time, through equitable sharing, the South-East got befitting positions in government; but today, the South-East is begging to be allowed to produce Nigeria’s president for the first time. This is unfair.
What is your take on the incessant clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria, particularly in the South-East?
Were there no herdsmen in Nigeria at the inception of this country? Were there no Hausa/Fulani people bringing their cattle down to the South-East to sell? Were they carrying guns?
During the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, did you hear about herdsmen carrying guns and killing farmers? Did you hear such during the time of Umaru Ya’Aduah and Goodluck Jonathan?
It is only now that you hear about that kind of story. So, it is not happening by accident; it is a calculated design. Even those of them that were arrested for alleged murder, have you heard that they were tried? Have any of them been charged to any court?
If we had a government that wants farmers/ herders clash to stop, such government would have charged the perpetrators to court, and give their trial good publicity. Herdsmen have been infiltrated, and people in government are aware of this because all along, we had very peaceful herders all over the country. But today, it is different story.
What, in your opinion, is the way out of the numerous crises in the North, including the Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping, mass murder, and all that?
The problem is created by the past mistakes of the northern people. The problem they created themselves is fighting them back today.
They created the Almajiri system. This is a system where young boys are born and thrown into the streets without any form of education or parental care. They are only assembled and taught Islamic and Arabic studies.
There is no education; no craftsmanship; no parental discipline! So, when this class of citizens goes into the society, there is no way they will fit in. In the first place, they are unemployable! So, people can easily mobilize them, form them into gangs, and they will begin to terrorize the society. It is the error of breeding such people that are now taking its revenge on the society.
Unfortunately, the government of the day seems to be helping the situation by negotiating with them whenever they commit crimes or abduct their fellow citizens. When they negotiated, government or their officials would pay ransom. There was a particular case in one of the states up there, where ransom of N800 million was paid to the bandits by an official of the state government.
So, when they get this kind of money that they have never seen before, it would help them to by more arms. It would help them to enjoy life of comfort, eat and drink anything they want. They will have good money in their pockets. So, the evil will keep growing. Government officials up there cannot say they do not know how these bandits operate. How can somebody come to a place and grab 200 children, load them in many buses and take them away?
They will pass through the roads, and security agencies will not see them? If those children were actually captured against their will, does it mean nobody heard their cries? They would travel from one state to another, and nobody would see them? They are deceiving themselves.
The system they created themselves is hunting them! However, nobody is happy about such development. It must stop! Anambra State governorship election is around the corner. Would you lend your voice to the call for the people to still re-elect the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for continued development of the state? As a father in this country, and as a citizen of Anambra State, I would advise the people of Anambra, in their own interest, to forget about this party called APGA.
The party has placed Anambra State to the position of a bat that is neither up there, nor down here. The bat is neither a bird nor an animal of the ground. It does not belong anywhere. So, the people of Anambra State should make up their minds to give themselves either an APC governor or PDP governor. Anambra should forget this political party that is run by one man.
What they call APGA today is one man show! It is not a political party; it is one man show! How can you continue to support APGA? Where can it go? They have no other place in Nigeria besides Anambra, and it has continued to keep the state perpetually down.
Anambra people should make efforts to liberate themselves. They should make up their minds this time around. Anambra is doomed if it settles for this one man business again. Do you understand at all that APGA is a distraction to our collective project?
We have the party only in Anambra State; though they call it Igbo party. How then would an Igbo or Anambra man negotiate for presidency with APGA? When national issues are being addressed, what platform would you use to negotiate? You are shouting ‘Nkea Bu Nkeanyi,’ (this is our own) yet, you want PDP and APC to give you ticket for presidency when you are not supporting them?
You refuse to join political parties with national face and national spread, but when national cake is being distributed, you want to share equally with others. Nkea Bu Nkeanyi! Nkea Bu Nkeanyi! Who are you, and where do you want to go from there?
What qualities would you like to see in the man that would take over from Governor Willie Obiano?
He is that man who will live above the general notion of seeking governorship position in order to grab power and steal money? In our own time, people were voted into power because of their antecedents, their honesty and what they would offer to their country. But today, people bribe their ways into positions of governance with ill-motives in their minds. In own time, there were money bags; but people collected their money and voted their conscience. In a nutshell, Obiano’s successor must be an honest man. He must not be somebody who keeps money first.
He must be somebody who will be there for what he can give – not what he can take from the public treasury.
Above all, he must be somebody, who is part of Nigeria, and not part of Igboland. What do I mean by this? Such person must emerge from a political party that has national spread, so that whatever happens in Anambra State will not start and ends in the state. If, as a state, you are not administered under a national party, to me, you are not part of Nigeria, and a person emerging from such platform is not worthy or good enough to pilot the affairs of Anambra State beyond March, 2022.
What are your wishes for Igbo people and Nigeria in general?
My prayer is that God may keep me to see Nigeria return to a sweet, promising and egalitarian country, as our founding fathers planned it when they fought and got the country’s independence.
I also wish above all things that I would live to witness the inauguration of the first elected Nigerian president of South-East extraction; possibly, in 2023.
A good number of us from the South-East were at the forefront of the struggle for the independence of Nigeria. When some elements were even trying to sabotage the struggle in order to have the independence postponed rather indefinitely, most of us from the South-East joined hands with other progressive minds to make it happen.
We were part of the struggles, conferences, negotiations, alignments and realignments that made the 1960 independence possible.
If I joined my ancestors today, having the promise that 2023 Southeast presidency is realizable, and that Nigeria recognize the contributions of the region and its people to the overall development of the country; my spirit would be happy. I am possibly the only surviving political link between the old and the new generations of the Nigerian federation, especially among those that fought for independence.
Remembering our contributions in this country, and considering how the rest of the country is treating my people today, makes me shed tears. If Nigeria continues to marginalize the South-East because of the Biafra war, my spirit and the spirits of our heroes, whose efforts brought independence to this country, would not be happy. I am issuing this as a warning; I am saying it for the final time. This should also be for record purpose. I may join my ancestors tomorrow