…it could have lasted another 15 years
• Restructuring has become urgent matter
Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu is a time-tested nationalist – a trained engineer, businessman, politician and an elder statesman. A three-time presidential aspirant, Iwuanyanwu has linkages across the country through his philanthropy and humanity which tend to resonate even louder than his politics. In this interview with STEVE UZOECHI in Owerri, Iwuanyanwu addresses contemporary issues, set history right and proffer solutions where necessary. Excerpts…
Holding positions of trust and responsibility in Nigeria
I have held responsibility from my childhood, in my schools; I have held positions of leadership even when I was in the army. I have also held such positions in business and in politics. I have been saddled with the responsibility of heading many critical boards and institutions in this country and I have discharged my responsibilities with the fear of God and with the mindset that I have been mandated with a sacred trust that must not be violated, in the best interest of my countrymen and humanity at large. I always seek to leave them better than I met them. I founded the Raw Material Research Development Council of Nigeria.
I was the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Calabar for four years. After my stay as Pro-Chancellor, they named the Faculty of Medicine building after me because of the quality of my contribution to the University while I held sway as Pro-Chancellor. Within the limit of human frailty, people respect me across the 36 states of Nigeria and Abuja.
I was also the Chairman of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA); in fact, the FERMA of today was built by me. We were previously staying in a rented house until I bought the building presently housing FERMA. I modernised it, ordered equipment and employed people. Formerly it was an appendage of the Ministry of Works.
But I brought in competent staff and made FERMA to be a standard maintenance agency. It pleased everyone what FERMA became. Even when I left FERMA, I went to the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, I was able to upscale the investment capacity of the country and many foreigners got interested in investing in Nigeria.
Relationship between investment and security
Nigerians must also begin to realize that to a very large extent, security determines the quality and size of investment we can get in the country. Any way you look at it, investment has a lot to do with the security of the place. During my days at Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, I didn’t just focus on investment and investors, I was also liaising with sister institutions and the security agencies to ensure that there was relative security and peace. In investment also, we must be mindful of the moral capital aspect because, most investors would not want to invest in an environment crawling with corruption. We must build public trust and investors’ confidence as a matter of priority. This, I verifiably, did to the best of my knowledge, at the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission.
Inefficiency takes shelter
in tribe and religion Once you are good and efficient, it does not matter the religion or tribe you come from. My father once told me and my siblings to strive to be the best and excellent at whatever we do. He illustrated with a story he summarised by saying that if you are a motor mechanic and proficient in your work, it does not matter the tribe you come from or the religion you profess, people will identify with you, patronise you and get quality service. Excellence breaks the barrier of ethnicity and religion.
I have come to realise that all the talk about tribe and religion in this country is largely driven by inefficiency. It is only people who are inefficient and corrupt, who continue to take shelter under tribe and religion and would not see Nigeria for what it is except through their ethnic and religious spectacles. And this has become a major impediment to the growth and development of this country.
Stabilising Nigeria for efficiency
I am very proud to be a Nigerian and I have goodwill from all the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. True enough, I come from a section of this country but my perception and identity is nationalistic. I believe in the unity of this country.
I want to also take the liberty of this interaction to warn the younger ones. All of us have a lot to gain by having a united Nigeria. A united Nigeria, properly structured to enable every ethnic group to have a sense of belonging. God knows why he brought us together.
I have no doubt in my mind that as one united Nigeria, this country can someday be a world leader. Most African countries are looking up to Nigeria. Breaking Nigeria into fragments is not going to be of any use and take note of this, if Nigeria starts breaking up, it cannot be controlled anymore. We may at the end of the day break up into 10 or 20 countries and they will all be weak and fragile. And like all countries in history that broke up, they spend a lot of time fighting themselves over trivial issues including border disputes. And so, I think, frankly speaking, we should all work hard to have one united Nigeria. It will be good for every one of us. I have looked at the situation and I want to praise our founding fathers.
Our founding fathers, when they went to the London constitutional conference and formulated the first constitution of Nigeria which had three federating units, they made it clear that all the regions had a great measure of autonomy; they could develop at their own rate.
They made it clear that even when a region wanted to leave, there should be a referendum, there should be a process. For example: through Western Nigeria, Mid-Western Nigeria was created. At the beginning, it was three regions, then four regions and that implies that the constitution in use at the time was good and a people-oriented constitution. It was later on when the military took over that they changed the constitution. I believe we must come to the point where the 36 states and Abuja are structured to be autonomous. We must restructure this country to survive.
There is none of these states, if well governed, which cannot stand on its own. There is no reason every state in Nigeria should be paying the same salary. How can somebody in the Lagos civil service be paid the same salary as somebody in Imo state? The resources are different.
The government in each of these states should be allowed to restructure their states to the level they can carry. I believe the problem we have in Nigeria is created by us and we can solve it but we are delaying it. Restructuring this country has become a matter of urgency and the sooner we do it, the better for all of us.
President of Igbo extraction
When we were amalgamated in 1914, Lord Lugard didn’t seek the consent of anybody. Even when later on, Sir Hugh Clifford took over from him, Clifford observed that there were lots of differences among the amalgamated regions – so many ethnic nationalities with different norms and values. When you have such a multi-ethnic federation, you must take interest in its stability, be sensitive to their interests by carrying everyone along. You cannot say that because someone is from a particular ethnic group, he can never occupy the highest position in the land even if they are qualified.
the north and make no mistake about it, the population of the north is big. Nigeria is a federation made up of many ethnic nationalities and if we really want to run a country, we must agree that what we presently have as a constitution is not the people’s constitution. We need our own constitution. That is part of what people are saying when they are calling for restructuring and anybody who loves Nigeria and is serious about this country, must accept it and if the people that should, fail to accept it, they will be held responsible for whatever happens to Nigeria subsequently.
It is a very painful thing; I love this country so much. I have homes in Europe and America but whenever I leave this country for one week, I feel home-sick. There is no country I feel at home except in Nigeria. If this country breaks up and all of us start fighting each other, fighting for boundary, fighting for resources, I mean, it’s not fair.
We can stop all these by doing just the right things in the interest of the country and its people. So, my position is that for 2023, if it is possible, let us spell out the zoning arrangement in our constitution, and let the constitution state also that South-East will now go first for the presidency, such that in 2023, all the political parties will nominate only candidates from the South-East. I say this because the way it is going presently; it is just haphazard. Without making it a constitutional matter, it is not going to mean anything to some political parties.
Some of them will be only focused on how to win. So the National Assembly can between now and 2023, make a law that can give constitutional backing to zoning and also mandate it to commence with the South-East since everybody believes that we have not occupied the presidential position since the return to democratic rule. Nigerians also know that South-East is the home of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a man which every Nigerian knows played a major role in the liberation of Nigeria from the British government.
Righting the civil war narrative
I have said this before and I am repeating it. I am still alive. I commanded the last battle for the defense of Uli Airport, so anything I talk about concerning the end of the war, is an eye-witness account. I am telling young Nigerians particularly, young Igbo people who continue to read all these books citing the ‘fall of Biafra’, ‘the defeat of Biafra’, ‘the surrender of Biafra’, those are not true. Strictly for the purposes of history, those narratives are not true. The truth about it, is that Nigeria was better equipped than Biafra, Nigeria had upper hand but Biafra was resilient.
We fought like people who had no other choice. The way we perceived the war was such that we were rejected, we did not feel safe in Nigeria anymore. Our people were slaughtered and massacred for a cause they knew nothing about. They said Igbo people caused the coup, of course that was also a lie; we did not cause the coup. Thousands of Igbo people were killed for no reason. So we did not have any choice, we resolved it was better to die fighting in defence of our people. That’s why we, the young men of those days, joined the army and took up arms.
We already made up our mind to pay the supreme price in defence of our fatherland, so in spite of our shortcomings and inadequacies, we were a fearless and resilient army of passionate young men. So like I said, the end of the civil war was negotiated and I say this because I was on ground. Just like the Boko Haram insurgency, if anybody thinks they can defeat Boko Haram by just force of arm, and without negotiation, they may just be wasting their time. They should engage them and find a middle ground.
If not for the negotiation, Biafra war could have continued for 10, 12 or even 15 years because it is not that easy to utterly defeat somebody in his own ground without long-drawn hostilities. If you come to one place, he will go to another place, and guerrilla warfare was an option. Our own generation of young people at the time, we were so determined and there was no way we would have surrendered at the time. We couldn’t have surrendered. Some people we must actually give credit for the end of the war are Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, General Yakubu Gowon and then President William Tubman of Liberia. What happened was that Azikiwe was able to get Tubman to broker peace. The truth remains that Azikiwe loved Nigeria. He never believed in anything else outside one Nigeria.
He believed he had spent a greater part of his life fighting the cause of Nigeria, so he was not happy about the war. He knew we were being unjustly treated and he knew we were not safe. Though he supported our cause, he did not believe that war was the only path to amicable resolution. He left the country and that was because if they had seen him, he would also have been killed. Azikiwe now organised a meeting with Tubman and Gowon. A meeting they held and that meeting was held at Ikeja airport because Azikiwe refused to go to Dodan Barracks which was the seat of power at that time.
For people who do not know, Gowon is a great leader. Nigerians must respect Gowon for making peace possible. Consider how the war against Boko Haram has become protracted and has lasted more than a decade, but Gowon was instrumental to making peace possible in just three years. If anybody is taking for granted the role of Gowon, Azikiwe and Tubman in bringing the war to an end, then I will have you know that if not for their involvement, that war would have lasted for more than 15 years. The type of people we had in Biafra were not those who could have surrendered like that.
I will also like to add that when this came to our attention, we the younger officers held a meeting, we didn’t want to surrender, we wanted to go on but it was General Philip Effiong that saved the situation. He told us that it was not defeat, that it is a negotiated ending for the war. So it is not a question of history recording it that our generation was defeated while fighting for survival. If someone defeats you while fighting for survival, tomorrow he can fight you again to annihilate you and we didn’t want to accept such a situation. So we want our young people to know that we their parents fought willingly placing our lives on the line and we were not defeated.
It was Effiong that first told us that there will be no victor, no vanquished. And he assured he reassured us that it was going to be put in the news and in fact young men of those generation would remember that before seven O’ Clock news every day, it was announced, ‘no victor, vanquished’. Again, he told us that nobody would be tried for the war including General Emeka Ojukwu himself.
This followed our pointed questions to him: “Would Ojukwu be tried?” This was because Ojukwu was a leader we all respected. It’s important to note that Ojukwu did not represent Biafra ab-initio, he believed in Nigeria. But it was the Nigerian government that forced him into the Biafra struggle, in defence of his people who were being slaughtered across the country. In fact, Ojukwu helped to neutralize the Chukwuma Nzeogwu coup alongside Aguiyi Ironsi who led the army at the time.
But Nigerians plotted and killed Ironsi. So we didn’t feel safe at all. So General Effiong assured us that General Ojukwu would not be tried and that also went for other soldiers and officers, unless there was any other criminal offence. Effiong also told us that the Nigerian government was going to rehabilitate all of us, would reconstruct our region due to the damages done by the war and that government was going to initiate policy for reconciliation. Rehabilitate us, reconstruct the region and reconcile Nigerians – that is the 3Rs.
He also told us that all the civil servants,policemen and soldiers would go back to their jobs and start where they were. When we agreed, we were asked to report to where we know now as Alvan Ikoku College of Education. Some people who died were those who were trying to escape. For all of us who went to Alvan Ikoku, all we did was profiling and documentation.
Olusegun Obasanjo was then the Commander of the 3rd Marine Commando, they were the people who moved into Owerri. They reassured us that we are all brothers and we embraced ourselves. After the documentation, all of us left. So there was no defeat, there was no surrender. It was a negotiated settlement to have one Nigeria. And after that, if you noticed, Igbos spread all over Nigeria again and there was no problem anywhere. I must state here that Igbo are very happy with the way the Northerners treated them after the war. In the north, most of the properties Igbos left behind were all preserved for them, many Northerners collected rents for Igbo properties and handed it back to them after the war. It is good for our children to know all these. The Emir of Kano was particularly a great friend of the Igbos, a good man.
He protected the Igbos and preserved their interests. Many Igbos lived within his emirate. The properties of the Igbos were largely protected in the North, it was only in the East here, where we are fighting ourselves that Igbos had issues with their properties. But it did not take a long time before it was resolved.
I am saying this again, we were not defeated. Yes, Nigeria had upper hand but we were resolute, we manufactured our equipment and military hardware. This is same reason I am suggesting that we negotiate with Boko Haram and settle the matter.
The war is causing this country a lot of money. We have gone on recession before, we may go on recession again. Can you imagine the amount of money spent on prosecuting this war? I’m getting old now, so I do not want our children tomorrow to say we were defeated. I am one of the people privy to all the meetings held.
We must be honest to ourselves. I am the chairman of the Ohanaeze South- East Council of elders. We have held a meeting and we have decided that like the South-West, we will set up our own regional security outfit. And we will tell the governors. Governors are working according to their constitutional mandate. All the governors need is to give us the constitutional backing to do what we have to do. But again, this is all part of the thing that should have been avoided. The Amotekun is an indication of failure of security in the country. The Yoruba must be commended for their courage and unity in coming together to redress their common problem by demanding their own security outfit. Also I think Nigeria is too big for a police force that is based in Abuja controlling every corner of this country. What I think Nigeria needs are a Federal Police, State Police and Local Government Police force.
If FG had adopted this module as proposed, the South-West may not have set up Amotekun. And this is going to be a problem for this country in the future. When every region has its own security outfit, they may all gradually metamorphose into ethnic militias.
If the FG had adopted the three levels of policing, with different leaderships, at the level of the Local Government Police, it is peopled by locals and they know who is who in the community. So I support the Federal, State and Local Government Police system.
In the absence of this, we will join the Yoruba to form our own regional security outfit. Igbos have already resolved to set up their own outfit. We need to protect our people because it is no longer news that there are people who are armed with automatic weapons who go about killing people at will.
My worry is that I have not seen any of them tried yet. Armed robbers are paraded, kidnappers are paraded, but I have never seen any of these men wielding AK-47 paraded and brought to book. Look at what happened in Benue recently, when a group of people armed with automatic weapons raided and sacked a community, killing, maiming and raping wives, daughters for no known reason. This is unfortunate. I think this matter is simple. Federal Government should just rise to the challenge. And most importantly, if we must talk about economic revival, we must have security in place. A country that cannot guarantee the safety of lives and properties will not appeal to any serious foreign investor.