A former Minister of Health, Prof Alphonsus Nwosu, speaks on the determination of the Igbos to produce the next president in 2023, his thoughts on the troubles with Nigeria and other issues of national interest.
As one of the founding members of Peoples Democratic Party, how do you feel that the party and its presidential candidate at the February 2019 general election, Atiku Abubakar, lost at the tribunal?
The Appeal Court has given its judgment and the PDP and its candidate have gone to the Supreme Court. I’m not a lawyer, but I support the appeal. I attended 80 per cent of the sittings. I was there when the evidences were presented; when witnesses were called; when the expert witness was called; when the Deputy Registrar of WAEC testified and when the Chief of Staff to the President testified. I looked at my own Cambridge West African School Certificate, which was obtained in 1962 and signed by Cambridge officials; vice-chancellor and chairman of council, not by WAEC. It has a serial number. But to cut the matter short, the Appeal Court has given its judgement and every law-abiding citizen has to take it.
Do you consider the tribunal judgment fair and devoid of prejudice?
What I believe is that it was a miscarriage of justice and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, I support the decision of the party and the candidate to go to the Supreme Court. I’m not bothered about prejudice or not.
The PDP has filed 66 grounds of appeal before the apex court, do you have confidence that your party would win at the end of the process?
If we don’t have confidence in Supreme Court, we will not file our appeal there. However, I’m not a lawyer; I’m a scientist. We deal with facts and deductions from the facts. We believe that the Supreme Court is the last resort in this matter and we have therefore gone to them. We are praying that there are still people who will look at the facts and make the proper deductions from those facts.
Recently, you were quoted to have said that you would resign from politics if PDP failed to win the next governorship election in Anambra State by 2021. What informed that decision?
I said so and I mean it. You know I would have been the first PDP governor of Anambra State in 1999. It was the shabby treatment that I was given that ultimately led to the numerous failures of Anambra State PDP even when it continued to win the Senatorial and House of Representatives seats. Peter Obi became governor and did well. With Peter Obi and Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, Anambra PDP could never have hoped to dislodge All Progressives Grand Alliance from the state. Peter Obi is now in PDP and he was our vice presidential candidate. The PDP has two of the senators and majority of the House of Representatives members from the state. Governor Willie Obiano is not up for re-election, so there is no incumbency factor. It is therefore only the PDP that can stop itself and if it fails to do so, why should I remain in the party? Most importantly, Anambra State Governor is the only one that is neither in the PDP nor in the APC. As a result, Anambra State keeps playing isolationist politics that is not connected to the national coverage, politically. Politics is a team game. It is not like table tennis, and Anambra State must play proper politics and join forces with sister states in the South-East zone for the collective well-being of the Ndigbo.
Given that APGA has ruled Anambra State for years, do you think your party can win the governorship election considering you are in the opposition?
The only thing that is a factor is the incumbent governor who is not up for re-election. There are two PDP incumbent Senators and several incumbent PDP members in the House of Representatives. There is an overwhelming need for Anambra State to join Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo states as a PDP State in order to exert their full electoral and political weight in the Nigerian federation, otherwise they will continue to whine about marginalisation.
The expectation of many is that the APC would zone the 2023 presidency to the south but Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai has called for abrogation of rotational presidency between north and south for what he termed ‘meritocracy’. Do you align with those who see that statement as a ploy by the north to hold on to power beyond 2023?
I have tried to restrain myself from being angry because every Nigerian is entitled to his opinion and has the right to aspire to be president of Nigeria. I know the Kaduna State governor well and I have great respect for him and his capacity when he was in charge of the Bureau of Public Enterprises and when he served as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. He also knows me and at a stage he was one of those who personally canvassed for me to become the PDP National Chairman. He would not have done so if he had considered me without merit and competence.
So, I’m trying to let politicians from the South-East know that our major task now is to come together and re-engage national politics with well-defined ideals and ideas that can be implemented. When the time comes for the presidency, it will be evident to Nigeria that the South-East is not lacking in brilliant minds and competent people with unmatched resumes. When the time comes, it will also be evident to the people of the South-East whether other Nigerians regard them as part of Nigeria or not. For now, the less that is said of the matter by the politicians of the South East, the best. When we want to change the country we know exactly what we will do. The point is that we have not even defined what the problems and the focus are. We haven’t defined our way of getting the millions of people out of school to go to school and for the teachings to be tailored towards exactly what we want. This was part of what Lee Kuan Yew did in Great Singapore. What are the skills and expertise? We must define them.
What do you make of the P&ID contract scam that is ruffling the country?
The recent P&ID issue is not only unfortunate but symbolizes why the country has failed the people. A few people in positions of authority have acted with impunity without due process, thus putting Nigeria in a mess because they think they are above the law. In this country there are always people in positions of authority who indeed think that they are above the law and cannot be jailed because they are part of the cabal in government. So, the situation we are in; the way they signed the agreement without taking cognisance of the public procurement act and without the authority of the Federal Executive Council just showed you how certain people think that they are above the law in this country. You can go and review the names involved and you will see that they are people who think they own the country and the rest of us are second-class citizens.
The only way to stop it is to reduce the powers at the centre and strengthen the various institutions and the rule of law. That’s why PDP has proposed privatising the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; that is why the PDP is serious about the restructuring the country; that is why the PDP is serious about private sector-led economy. These are ways of ensuring that similar things cannot happen in future but people who believe that some people are holier than the other people and they have more integrity than other people even when leakages are happening all around them, will continue their theory of strong men rather than strong institutions, strong laws and corruption-free processes.
Are you concerned that the agitation for the restoration of Biafra by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra and other pro-Biafra activities will jeopardise the chances of Igbo presidency by 2023?
It is my firm believe, very firm one, that the priority of Ndigbo has always been to get a Nigerian federation that works for all and not for some people only. I have never disagree with our brothers in IPOB and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. When a person is pained by the situation he finds himself in a family, he is allowed to agitate. Indeed, it’s natural to agitate. The Igbo man is very unhappy in Nigeria. The Igbo man is being treated as if he is not part of Nigeria. The Igbo man is being treated as a secessionist in Nigeria. The Igbo man has been grossly misunderstood in Nigeria even when he is the only one prepared to invest in other parts of Nigeria. So, he is angry and he is praying if we don’t want Nigeria let’s not have Nigeria.
In 1994, I was the chairman of the organising committee for Mkpoko Igbo, a two-day conference in Enugu, which hosted all Igbo and other Nigerians, like late Ken Saro Wiwa, Prof Elaigwu among others. One of the headlines from the event was ‘let’s divide Nigeria’, because it was at that conference that late Alex Ekwueme propounded the six political zones structure. Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was there and all prominent Igbo, including Prof Ben Nwabueze and Dr Pius Okigbo were also there. So, you see that the Igbo as a nation are pained. They took their pains and reservations to the Abacha Conference. So, you could say that conference helped to prepare the programme for the Abacha conference on rotational presidency. It also included resource control. I still have the proceedings and the communiqué from that conference because I signed it. You can see from what I have said that Ndigbo have always been for a restructured Nigeria that will benefit everybody, every Nigerian.
For example, if the proposals had been agreed upon in the constitution, late President Umaru Yar’Adua would have been succeeded by a vice-president from the northern part of the country and the agitation that followed his death would not have taken place. These are not for the benefit of the Igbo, but for everybody and even for the survival of Nigeria. So, back to IPOB; when you deny people justice, those people are not interested in peace. History has shown that any people who have been denied justice are not interested in peace. When you denied black Americans the right to vote, they have the civil right movement. So, I’m in favour of anything that the Ndigbo, including IPOB, MASSOB, do to make Nigerians aware that Ndigbo are very unhappy with Nigeria. They want justice. Igbo have fought civil war and they are back (as Nigerians). They are not back to be the slaves of others; they are back to be full and equal citizens like others. And to me MASSOB, IPOB, Lower Niger etc, are all different forms of telling our brethren that the Igbo spirit abhors injustice and second-hand citizenship and we expect that they will be aware of this fact as 2023 approaches.
On Tuesday, Nigeria clocked 59 as an independent nation. How would you describe Nigeria at 59?
I can describe Nigeria at 59 as a country that should have been hailed as the giant and pride of the black race. But Nigeria at 59 has failed to realise its mission to Africa, black race and to the people. I feel disappointed. I thought that we would have learnt lessons from the civil war and from 1970. I thought we would have marched forward with full development and full realisation of Nigeria’s potential. So, I’m not satisfied with the way the country is going. I was in secondary school – class three, when Nigeria got its independence. I was in final year in the university when the war broke out between Nigeria and Biafra; and had to join the Biafran army. By 1970, I had gone back to school and subsequently became a Commonwealth scholar from Nigeria. So, I thought all the lessons had been learnt during this period, and that Nigeria would be moving on the path of development at a very fast pace. Nigeria is a very unique country.
Nigeria was created for African renaissance and for the fulfilment of the fact that Africans can attain the same level of development as people of any other colour. The hope when I was leaving Imperial College, London for Nigeria in 1975 was that by now we would be able to be designing and building our own bridges. We would be able to be making our own arms and launching our own rockets. Our hope was that we would be making almost everything we wanted. Nigeria has the potential, in human and material resources for spectacular growth and development but these are yet to be fully harnessed. All our founding fathers have been dying disappointed with what Nigeria has failed to become. Their hope at independence was that Nigeria would become the giant of Africa. By the time they were dying, Nigeria was becoming a hopeless case. My uncle, Dr Nwafor Orizu, told me, by the time he was dying, that he thought Nigeria was on its way to its destiny. Maitama Sule said before his death that Nigeria hadn’t started its journey towards its destiny, and that when it starts it will be self-evident.
Do you think the country can still make headway on the dream of the founding fathers?
It is a must. It is our God-given destiny to fulfil or betray. Human beings can create obstacles on the way to achieving destiny but those human beings will eventually die and it should be clear that our children and grandchildren will achieve all those things which we have failed to achieve. My only regret is that I don’t think many of us that are over 70 will live to see our children realise this destiny for Nigeria. Nigerians are in Ivy League universities in the United States and these are our children. We their fathers and political leaders have simply become delinquent by not doing what we should be doing. The delinquent generations shall surely pass away taking the delinquent nation now called Nigeria with them and the new nation called Nigeria will emerge with our children to fulfil Nigeria’s God given destiny.
I believe God hasn’t finished with us yet and that is why Nigerians excel in almost all the universities wherever they’re sent in the world. So I have hope. I don’t think that my children and my grandchildren will continue in this present delinquent Nigeria where everybody thinks that the world will stop tomorrow, and so they grab everything they can today and shout that they’re fighting corruption. It is not by mistake that God put us together in this little area of the universe called Nigeria with 25 per cent of the black population in it and endowed with abundant natural resources. This delinquent generation has become fixated on oil, and forgotten gold, and other precious metals and solid mineral resources.
Do you think that is part of the problems?
We have become so fixated on oil wells that we have forgotten human capital and the creation of knowledge-based and technology-based economy. Recently, we have shifted our focus to taxes, Value Added Tax, toll gates, etc, and have forgotten that we can produce Nigerian made cars and other goods, when Ghana, our neighbour, is emphasising production and de-emphasising taxes especially for producers. When our competitors are emphasising education, Nigeria is spending its resources on cattle and our governors are proud to announce it to us. Later, when it matures and our competitors are producing rocket scientist, we shall be producing fattened cows.
We fail to realise that the glorious phase of Nigeria is when the out of school children are in school; when the public schools are producing world-class engineers, medical scientists and poets and the Federal Government colleges are restored to their original form and concept, then Nigeria shall prosper. Nigeria shall not prosper by eating only fattened cows. So, when this delinquent phase passes away, that phase of our educated children with skills shall come and that will be the glorious era for Nigeria.
Although, RUGA programme has been suspended, what are your thoughts on it and the current Water Resources Bill before the National Assembly sponsored by the Federal Government?
I have no apologies because I have said that the hottest part of hell must be reserved for those propagating it instead of thinking of ranching as the international best practices for producing beef. I don’t know how RUGA emerged in Nigeria but whoever is responsible for it will be shamed.
There is a Water Resources Bill before the National Assembly sponsored by the Federal Government. Do you think there is a sinister motive behind it?
I don’t know the motive but I am guided by what former President Dwight Eisenhower of the US said, ‘that any party or any government that does not exist for the good of all its people is a bad government’. Bill Clinton also said ‘you can’t have good governance superimposed on bad politics; that the beginning of good governance is good politics’. Democracy must work for everybody and all the people because nobody voted himself into slavery. So, any government that has a master-servant relationship in it is ab initio designed to fail. Water is created by God, Rivers are created by God. They flow through terrains for the use of everybody.
Do you think the National Livestock Transformation Plan has any correlation with RUGA?
I don’t know, but what I’m looking at is Nigeria and its priorities. And the question becomes whether livestock is our priority now. My interpretation of it is that somebody’s will must be done and if government tries RUGA, it doesn’t work, government will try another thing to see if the people can be browbeaten into submission even if the matter is not a national priority. For me, livestock transformation is not a priority and if Nigeria is looking to transform its livestock it should go straight to ranching, following the steps of major livestock-producing nations of the world. It is only in Nigeria that we must find some way, some contraption, something that carries us for one week or two until it precipitates a major national crisis instead of going to the well-known practice that is used all over the world. Back to Nigeria’s priorities, I have said before that there was a need to boost human capital. The founding fathers knew that Nigeria had phenomenally talented human beings and ensured the best education for them. – Culled from Punch.