By Chukwudi Nweje
Former Minister of Health and member, Board of Trustees, BOT, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prof ABC Nwosu, in this interview bares his mind on the agitation by the South East to produce the next Nigerian president among other issues.
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You have been quiet and scarce in the South East for sometimes now; why?
First, it is insecurity that has gone out of hand completely in the last two months and neither government nor anybody can decipher why. Certainly, it doesn’t look like the work of ESN or IPOB and government must be able to get on top of what is happening. I came to attend a funeral ceremony for a friend who was buried today (Friday) in Nnewi but after seeking security opinion from all those domiciled in Nnewi. I have stopped in Enugu and will go back tomorrow to Abuja. That is how bad things are. This explains why I have been scarce and my quietness has been because neither the situation regarding insecurity or with politics is also clear. What is clear is that for the South East the matter of presidency in 2023 is a matter of identity, ‘ahamefula’. Ndigbo want to assure themselves that they are accepted as full Nigerian citizens. No full-blooded Igbo person will accept a situation of inferior citizenship or that he is not qualified to be president of Nigeria. It hurts. It gets to the centre of the Igbo soul and the Igbo spirit, and it is not acceptable. Ndigbo will not be junior Nigerians in their country to be used as hewers of woods and drawers of water.
What really is happening with the nomination process in the two big parties?
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What is happening in the nomination processes of the two big parties is indeed troubling to the South East and fueling their suspicion that there is a conspiracy to keep them out of the presidency.
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The South East cannot understand why when it comes to their turn, rotation of the presidency between the North and the South becomes discarded and treated in a cavalier manner. This rotation of the presidency between the North and the South was a very heated subject in the 1995 Constitutional Conference which was instituted by General Sanni Abacha as Head of State. This conference was set up by a decree, which gave it full constituent power, which means that its report and a draft constitution brought by it shall become the next constitution. That draft conference report and the draft constitution were indeed submitted to government by late Justice Karibi-Whyte and printed by government printers under General Abacha. It’s provision on rotational presidency was crystal clear and I quote: “The presidency of Nigeria shall rotate between the North and the South.” That draft constitution also provided that there shall be two Vice Presidents for Nigeria. One from the zone of the serving president. With hindsight Nigeria would not have had the need to dabble into Doctrine of Necessity if these provisions had been followed. That conference was attended from the South East by Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Dee Sam Mbakwe, etc, and from the North by Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Senator Olusola Saraki, who was the bridge-builder and all the leading politicians in Nigeria. These leaders were elected by the people same as the present leaders. That is why that conference had full constituent powers as the 1979 conference. Unfortunately, General Abacha to whom the draft constitution and the report were submitted died but in hindsight, we can see that if that constitution had been promulgated, the present situation wouldn’t have arisen. And I begin to wonder when an agreement is binding in Nigeria especially when those who negotiated the agreement are dead. Have Nigerians no honour? I was the head of the South East Secretariat for that conference and in due time, I will publish the names of those delegates from the North to that 1995 conference who agreed to that provision.
So you think that there is a deliberate plan to shortchange the South East and stop it from producing the next president?
That conclusion is inescapable the moment the North as a whole started questioning rotation. It was not questioned when it went to South West in 1999, it was not questioned when it went to North West in 2007, and indeed in 2015 PDP governors walked out of the convention venue to strengthen APC to defeat PDP for the same reason that it wasn’t zoned to the North. So it is inexplicable to the South East why rotation is suddenly being questioned for the 2023 presidency. Some have said they want to win as if only candidates from the North can win general elections in Nigeria. Some have given reasons that people have bought forms and paid huge sums of money. Since when has this become a reason? As one leading politician from the South East has put it, the South East is being given a bitter pill to swallow and this is not a good thing for nation building. What is good for one section of Nigeria should also be good for the other.
How do you think the South East will react to these efforts to deprive it of the presidency?
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How does one predict how an adult reacts to a very painful situation. The obvious one is that the South East is not happy. That can be seen from the numerous meetings in the South East, Ohanaeze communiques and other related communiques from the South East that they are not happy at the way they are being treated on this matter and remain grateful to courageous people like Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Edwin Clark etc, who have insisted that agreement must be respected in Nigeria and that the presidency should rotate to the South. What the South East will do about this their unhappy situation is unpredictable. As 2022 draws to a close, the options which the South East has chosen will begin to unravel.
What will the South East presidency bring to Nigeria?
It will bring to Nigeria stability and a sense of belonging to all groups, big and small. It will bring to Nigeria competence, problem solving and good governance. It will bring to Nigeria justice, fairness and equity and banish the notion that there can be senior and junior Nigerians. And the South East is proud of problems solved by people like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kenneth Dike, Okonjo-Iweala and even Ernest Ndukwe when he successfully did the GSM auctions. The South East is full of achievers and it is in their DNA to succeed in whichever area you find them.
Why has there not been a serious effort to produce a consensus candidate from the South East?
The temptation is indeed strong to answer your question with other questions, namely: why hasn’t there been a consensus candidate from the North or from the South West or from South – South? But the South East is not like the other zones. And I can reveal to you that there are serious efforts to produce not more than two consensus presidential aspirants based on the job to be done, past achievements and intellectual capability of the aspirants and their acceptability to other Nigerians. South East, having invested largely in the other zones and being the most peripatetic and the most dispersed, is the zone that should be most trusted with fostering the unity of the country and with nation building.
You are usually outspoken in matters of the appropriateness of the kind of candidate that the South East should produce; do you have a candidate that you think fits the bill now?
Everybody has two or three possible presidential candidates who have something to offer. There are jokers and they know themselves. There are agents provocateur who have been planted in the South East and are being sponsored heavily from outside the South East to distract the zone from asserting its full citizenship rights. In this case, it is the right to produce the president of Nigeria. To deprive the South East of this right is wrong before God and it should be wrong before man.
How do you see things unfolding by next month when all parties must submit their candidates?
The primaries will be over in the next two weeks. Every attention is being focused on the big parties. The favorite to win the election is the PDP and the favorite to win the selection is All Progressives Congress, APC but there are many dark horses and it will be silly to discountenance them given three facts. First, the voting population is about 100 million while the membership of the two mega parties is under 15 million. Secondly, the voting population is disenchanted with government, which they think doesn’t consider the masses but only their families and friends, and thirdly, there shall be a more stringent evaluation of candidates by voters because many of the candidates shall come to dash oil wells to their friends and give favours of our common patrimony like Ports Authority, Railway, NIMASA, NNPC and others. The new Electoral Act is also very stringent and has stoutly refused to give extension of time to political parties and does not allow people to run from pillar to post in the primaries. When you have lost the primary in your party, you don’t go to any other party to go and pick up a ticket because you can finance them. So, I expect strong candidates to make their moves in weeks rather than the month. I expect the youths to be better organized than they were under ENSARS protest in protecting their votes and I expect electronic accreditation and transmission of results to have a dramatic effect on number of votes cast. This time, there shall be a server and the votes of those you call small parties will shock Nigerians.
Do you have hope in 2023?
When you lose hope, you lose everything. My prognosis is that Nigeria will not break in 2023. My prognosis is that those who think it will be business as usual will be shocked. My prognosis and hope is that the youth will find their voice and finally, that the Almighty God will allow a competent Nigerian from the South East zone to give good governance to Nigeria and set it on the path for national development.