Former Minister of Health and a member of the Board of Trustees BoT of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prof ABC Nwosu, in this interview speaks among others on the next step for Igbo after losing out in the presidential primaries of the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Despite the agitations for Nigerian President of Igbo extraction, the two major political parties, APC and PDP totally ignored the Igbo. How do you feel?
What happened at the primaries is wrong before man and God. It is not acceptable to many Igbo people like me. It is not acceptable that since independence in 1960, we have had Presidents from the North, West and none from the main Igbo group. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was a ceremonial president.
They are not thinking of equity and justice but the Igbo have always thought of equity and justice. It was not just and equitable to ignore the South-West and it was decided that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae should contest in 1999 and after that, it was moved to Ya’Adua and then to Jonathan and after that it went to Buhari. We objected that before a Fulani comes in for another term, it is proper that the South-East should come in.
Anything that you are talking about, is it competence that you are talking about and the South-East is not there? From Zik, we haven’t had that competence? There are things that I cannot accept as a Nigerian and that is that the people of South-East are not competent or less competent than people from other places. What is it that is wrong? If it is because of the civil war, let everybody come out and open their mouths and say it, then we will discuss civil war and bury it. But you cannot be sidelining the South-East and expect that all the disturbances we are seeing in the South-East would stop. There is so much injustice against the Igbo and that is not acceptable.
Are you happy with what is going on? If it doesn’t make you happy, it doesn’t make us happy. Peter Obi saw the conspiracy in PDP and left. You cannot keep me there for completing number and keep using me to complement you when indeed you don’t feel I am equal to you, have equal right with you, that I have equal citizenship right, you don’t feel that I belong. It is wrong. And that is why I said it is wrong before God and man.
Some people have expressed dissatisfaction that Peter Obi left PDP, they believe that he shouldn’t have left…
If Obi stayed in the PDP and was voted out, what would he be doing? Would his name still be on the ballot paper? You cannot contest when the PDP has produced a candidate through a primary, another member who contested and lost would not emerge and cannot put his name on the ballot paper. Peter Obi saw what was going to happen and left. If he had stayed, he would have lost because everything had been decided behind him.
The other time, he was with Atiku Abubakar and many were thinking that as Atiku emerged PDP presidential candidate, that Peter Obi would have been the vice presidential candidate…
Given the conditions, Atiku was to complete the tenure of Buhari because of the bad governance of APC under Buhari in 2019. Atiku would not have run this 2023 and the hope was that Peter Obi would have had experience under him for four years to contest in 2023. So if Atiku doesn’t win in 2023 and decides to run in 2027, Peter Obi will not run until he has served under Atiku’s government? Wasn’t Atiku in PDP? Didn’t he change to APC, and now back to PDP? Why should Peter Obi’s own be seen differently? I am still in PDP, I am a member of the Board of Trustees of PDP. Everybody has his right to pursue his ambition under a party and if that party doesn’t give him a chance, he has to look for a party that will give him a chance to fulfill his full citizenship rights.
How would you describe what happened at APC and PDP primaries?
We had hoped that the APC, according to what the northern governors said and according to what we were looking towards, might produce a South-East candidate. It didn’t. What each person does now would depend on that individual person. I might decide to go with the prevailing South-East opinion or decide to go with the prevailing party opinion where I am a board of trustee member. But that would be when it reaches the time.
The general opinion has been that the politicians from the South-East are not united…
That is a nonsense opinion. I call it nonsense opinion because the South-West didn’t vote for Obasanjo. Were they united when they voted in Obasanjo to become President? Was the North united when they voted in President Ya’adua? Which place is united now? Don’t you see the problem that the APC is solving now. Are they united, even in the North? Why is it that whenever the South-East is mentioned, people say they are not united. Who is united? The South-East deserves to be given the chance. I have been in the East for the past two weeks and I am a politician and I interact with people and you say that the South-East is not united.
I am begging you, don’t believe this nonsensical opinion. Was the South-West united when Obasanjo became President? Is the South-West united now? Is the North united? Which place is united? You cannot deny people their right by saying that they are not united to receive it. President Obasanjo in 1999 lost his polling booth, lost his local government and his state but he became President of Nigeria by popular vote. So why can’t it happen and why should I be the person joining those sending out this kind of opinion so as to discourage the South-East?
The release by INEC shows the South-East has the least number of registered voters. What do you think about that?
We know, at a time of election, using the new electoral law, we might have surprises. When you have correct PVC, it will be recorded, the result will be transmitted. There may be no manufactured votes this time. So, how do you know numbers? How? And it is said that cowards die many times before their death. Why is it that somebody cannot say that I have full citizenship right in Nigeria and stand on it win or lose? As a citizen of Nigeria, I have the same right with every other citizen of Nigeria and stand on it, win or lose?
I was part of the civil war and I know that the same clouds are building up again. I can tell you, I was in final year in the university, I had to come out and join the Biafran Army and I was a Captain for three years instead of graduating. And I don’t like what is happening. What happened in the past was that we reached an agreement at Aburi and the people went against that agreement, and the war chants in Biafran was ‘on Aburi we stand.’ It was not a problem or anything. We stand on the zoning and rotation agreement.
In 1995, under Abacha, Ojukwu and all the leaders, leading the South-Easteast with Ekwueme and everybody met in Abacha’s conference. They were elected. And they went there and agreed, they drafted a constitution that would have been signed by Abacha before he died which was that the presidency shall rotate between the North and the South. I have the document. Then the Jonathan conference, I was their member and we reaffirmed it. Why is it that some people feel that they have a right to change an agreement that has been reached? Why? And I’m saying this is not right. This is not right before God and man, this is wrong. You treat each child of yours as you have treated the others. That is a philosophy that I grew up with, treat each child equally. Let me put it differently: if you are struggling for your right in your father’s compound, and your leg is not strong, and your voice is not strong, people should go and check your DNA. You may not be that person’s child. So, I have no problem again with the South-East insisting. If you insist with all the might that you can muster, and your brethren deprive you of it, you may be practicable to say that you are outnumbered by your brothers, even by those from the same mother who know that you are the same DNA with them. But it would be wrong for you to deny yourself that you are your father’s child.
What the South-East is saying is that we are also citizens of Nigeria. If you say because the civil war was fought, the civil war was not fought because we were denying we are not our father’s child. The civil war was fought for a totally different reason all together and it is left for your brethren to accept that a people denied justice cannot be interested in peace.
The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo keeps saying it. Throughout history, go and tell me any people denied justice that will be interested in peace. If I am saying let us be a peaceful family, is it the peaceful family that believes I am not my father’s son? Is that what you want me to be? That mentality should change.
Do you think the Igbo still stand a chance in 2023 with what we have seen so far?
Did we stand a chance in the civil war? I’m trying to say that you don’t always do things because you want to win. You can win and you can lose but you have made your point that you are a full blooded citizen of Nigeria. The only way you would have lost is if you are quiet and refuse to speak. Therefore, let them treat you in any manner you can accept it and that is the problem. We should be happy that some people are standing to their rights.
Abiola was denied presidency and in the end what happened? Many years after he was dead, he was reckoned with and because of it, the South-West was given a chance and the presidency has had a chance of now rectifying it. Abiola is now a former president; Abiola has been given all rights and everything. If they had said they didn’t stand a chance and kept quiet, do you think these things would have come? That’s why I told you that cowards die many times before their death, that is Shakespeare, and it is true till today. The fact that you do not stand a chance does not give you a right to standby and maybe help people de-robe you so that they can rip you off your presidency because they have a gun pointed to your head.
Why would you have a Nigeria where the South-West has been elected by the rest of Nigerians, the North-West has been elected by rest of Nigerians, the South-South has been elected by the rest of Nigerians, the only people who cannot be elected by the rest of Nigerians are the South-East. Does it make sense? Of course if you appeal to the conscience of the rest of Nigerians, they will, in the end do what is practicable.
Ohanaeze did say that the Igbo Presidential aspirants should not accept vice presidential position. Do you agree with that?
That is what Ohanaeze still says and I support it 1000 percent. People have a proverb that says, “Rather than your cow running away completely, you cut off the tail.”
Some people are saying that it is better to play a second fiddle than not playing a fiddle at all?
Sometimes, it is best not to play any fiddle at all.
What is the problem with playing first fiddle? Everybody has played the first fiddle in Nigeria except South-East. Why is it that it is right for every other part of Nigeria to play first fiddle, except the South-East? And they are expected to be content playing second fiddle till thy kingdom come.
So in other words, if South-East cannot play the first fiddle other fiddles would go?
My opinion is, we should wait until we can play first fiddle before they think that we are too satisfied to play second fiddle, that we are not prepared to play first fiddle. Where it gets upsetting is because the problem facing Nigeria is very complex. Those who think it’s business as usual, that when they are presidents, they’ll dash away and give their friends huge contracts, it will not be the same. Now, you have to stop insecurity that is all over the country. We were in this country, I still have my passport where one thousand Nigerian pounds got you more than seven thousand dollars. Some of us went to the best schools in the world, children of illiterate mothers, children of poor fathers and palmwine tappers went to some of the best schools. I know I went to a government college in the East and I know that in my set, there was nothing called Division Three or failing. I took school certificate just a year after the present head of state. I am a 1962 WASC holder and it was WASC not WAEC. I had a class mate whose father was a palmwine tapper, his one eye was taken by cataract, he had five distinctions and the children of ministers didn’t pass. These were the leaders we produced.
In the East it was Opara, in the West it was Awo. Are we thinking of such things? It was the human capital that enabled us to grow so fast and now what do we see? Your father is not rich enough to send you to a private school, you go to a village school and then whatever you get is why nobody can make correct sentence. Where did those people study after going to local schools in Nigeria? They went to Harvard, Cambridge and people like me went to Imperial College where we distinguished ourselves. It doesn’t happen now and we are eating up the future, we are not satisfied with eating up the present. These are serious problems that would face a president, not to talk of being in a church and you can see the number that died and you see the governor is livid with anger.
There were people who did it and they are all human beings but each time we do these things, it diminishes humanity. Each time this happens and the government allows it, it diminishes that government’s legitimacy because the first rule of government is protection of life and property. How would you feel as a person alive and your wife and children went to mass that day without you and such a story emerges? For anyone who knows the Catholic Church, we know that the Mass is the highest. I am a Catholic I am passionate about this.
These things are not right, they should be able to say as individuals, as government that these actions are wrong before God and man. If we’re not able to say that, then we are not humans, we are less than humans.
That also brings us to the killings happening in the South-East, the destruction of properties, the kidnappings and killings and whenever it happens it is usually attributed to the IPOB and ESN
IPOB has been screaming at the top of its voice that it is not responsible for those things, that there are infiltrators who have been planted to give the South-East a reason for not producing the president. Nobody has investigated this, nobody has brought to book all the people responsible for all these deaths to try them. I have received some death calls and when it became intense, we wanted these death calls investigated and I had to travel out when Dr. Chike Akunyili was killed because I had death calls.
No one has been arrested?
Who has been arrested for burning Ohanaeze President Generals’ house? He is not an unknown entity, he was Nigeria’s Ambassador to Israel, USA and he was Director General of Nigeria Institute of International Affairs. His house got burnt and nobody can tell us anything about it. He is still there, surging on. Many of our best and educated people with doctorate degrees from Olympia, how do you expect such a person to be happy?
They burnt my cousin’s house in Nnewi, Dr. Chu Okongwu after serving this country in a distinguished manner as Minister of Finance for Nigeria. He was PhD Havard and the thing broke his heart. He was not a known IPOB or anti-IPOB or anti-anybody. He was just living his life, making the least number of enemies he could. They burnt his house, this broke his spirit and we took him to the hospital and he died there. We just buried him unceremoniously and quietly. How many Nigerians knew that their minister was buried quietly? These are the things that can’t continue to go. Who enjoys that naira exchanges for over N600 per dollar? No one is happy with it. I recall that some of my cousins were sent to Britain to study before America became popular. Our fathers doing their jobs at post offices or as police with the exchange money in post office were training their children who came back and became Attorneys General, some became doctors.
Some private people would buy money order or postal order to train people outside. At this exchange rate, who does that? Once we can tell ourselves that things can’t just simply go on like this, then we start saying to ourselves what has societies that have progressed been built on, then we would realize that first of all, they were built on common principles that have served the world -justice, equity and equality.That is why Americans call them self-evident truths. That is what made Martin Luther’s speech. I believe that America would do things not because of colour but because of the context of the character. We believe Nigeria would do things ultimately based on what is right and what is wrong.
Some quarters are saying that there might be no election in 2023?
We don’t know, at least I am still a member of the PDP BoT. We were getting ready to vote for the candidates and when it reached the time, we didn’t vote. We were not delegates, even members of National Working Committee. The president didn’t sign the Electoral Act and so we didn’t vote. I don’t know what would happen tomorrow. If millions of people are disenfranchised, well I don’t know tomorrow.