Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo was born on July 28 1950 in Nsukka, Enugu State. He is a Medical Doctor, a Surgeon, an Administrator, a politician. The Medicine and Surgery graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was elected governor of Enugu State in 1992 under the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC during the third Republic.
Nwodo, as a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was twice elected the National Secretary of the party and in 2010, he became the National Chairman of the party following the forced resignation of former National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor. Nwodo was later forced to resign as National Chairman because his policies for the party e- registration of members and his fight against imposition of candidates did not go well with the Governors.
In this exclusive interview with Vanguard, Nwodo speaks on issues in the country, Restructuring, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration, the 2014 National Conference, the PDP, among others.
By HENRY UMORU, ASSISTANT POLITICAL EDITOR
You have been quiet for some time, what is happening to you sir?
Well I have been enjoying my retirement, but I won’t call it sabbatical holiday. I am enjoying my golf, I am enjoying my family. It had been a long time I have had the opportunity to spend time with my family.
When you look at the situation in the country now, will you say it is the kind of country that our fore fathers envisaged?
Well, I want to be very blunt; I don’t believe that anybody ever contemplated, wished, hoped or imagined that the situation in our country would be as bad as it is today. When we had an economy that depended basically on agriculture, our founding fathers were able to do a lot when it came to development of this country. With the cocoa in the West they were able to build the first television in Africa.
With the palm produce in the East we were able to build the first indigenous Nigerian university and up North also the first generation universities were also established. Water wasn’t in bad supply, electricity wasn’t in bad supply and education was strong.
Most importantly we haven’t planned our economy to absorb the increasing population. We are producing many graduates, who are not getting jobs. We haven’t prepared for their employment, we haven’t trained them to be self employed so that with the education they have acquired, the confidence they have acquired, the entrepreneurship that they have acquired in school, they can become employers of labour. We haven’t done that.
Look at the problem of electricity; can you believe how many megawatts South Africa is producing and how many megawatts Nigeria is producing? And our population is almost 10 times the population of South Africa.
We never planned to meet the needs of this population as far as the power industry is concerned and the same thing goes for every other aspect of our life; we didn’t plan for the health care of this population, we didn’t plan for the educational care of this population, a lot of things were taken for granted and today we are suffering all of this. The infrastructure of our country is very weak and that is why the economy is very difficult to turn around.
This is 17 years of unbroken democracy in which we have our ups and downs. In your candid view, do you think the present government has the capacity to lead us out of this present economic crisis that we are facing?
To be honest with you we have all prayed for democracy in our country and as you have said we are enjoying 17 years of unbroken democracy. We have put a lot of blame on military intervention in our governance and that is also true but then with the advent of democracy and the lessons that politicians are supposed to have learnt about the truncation of democracy by the military, one would have expected that we would organise ourselves better.
When we formed PDP, one of the cardinal things that we said which we believed in was that no Nigerian should go to bed hungry. This country had the capacity to make sure that this didn’t happen because our country is a rich country, but what has happened is that the people who managed our affairs in these 17 years haven’t been as frugal as those who managed it in the first republic and even in the second republic.
It is easy to look at the personal wealth of people like Aminu Kano, Amadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, M.I. Okpara, look at what they left behind in terms of material possession and look at what state governors, senators and people who are just in the periphery of power in our country now have. You look at the amount of wealth that is going through their fingers and you look at what they are doing for the people in terms of services.
Now coming specifically to the present government, this government came in with a lot of high hopes, Nigerians had a lot of high hopes and I think their biggest problem also is that they were responsible also for raising the hopes of Nigerians; so the people felt that all the problems of Nigerians were going to be solved in day one. But at the time they came the price of crude oil came crashing down.
Secondly, the bombing of gas and oil pipelines have made it difficult for them to meet their targets. So the price of oil is down and the quantity you are selling is down and we are a mono economy nation after so many years of saying that we are going to diversify our economy.
You can imagine the problem the government has in its hands. What is disturbing Nigerians is not that the government has this problem because other governments have come at a worst period; when Obasanjo came, crude oil was selling at 30 and he still managed the economy very well, he was able to get a debt relief from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which gave us a window and he was able to grow the economy.
Therefore it is a question of do you have a strategy that will work? Now in the past one year, we have been watching the government and we have been co-operating with every strategy that they have brought but things are getting harder and harder for our people.
Secondly, when the price of petrol has gone so high, almost double of what they met now even the farmer in the rural area who has to transport his farm products to the city is paying more for transport. We are therefore paying more for the things we are cultivating in our land. The biggest problem is that people are not having more income; the minimum wage hasn’t changed, the sources of income have not changed and then there is high inflation. This is why out there, people are hungry, people are angry, people are saying when is government going to solve this problem and they are impatient .
So I think that what the government needs more than anything else at this time is a very strong economic team. We need an economist in the Ministry of Finance, we need an economist in the Central Bank, we need economist in Budget and Planning and we need economic advisers. There have to be a strong economic team and Nigeria has this man power, it is there, it is a question of government appreciating the need to bring them together to help government to solve the economic situation and I think the government should do that.
Even if it means going outside the party?
It doesn’t matter! In a presidential system, the president can source manpower from anywhere, it doesn’t have to be party men. This particular problem of the economy isn’t calling on party members, it is calling for the best brains in Nigeria, the hunger doesn’t believe in party.
Secondly, government has done well in targeting agriculture, but there is also another which I think government needs to do more and that is skills acquisition.
I believe that all over Nigeria, you should have skill acquisition centres because lots of our young people have gone to university, they have gone to tertiary institutions, but they have no skills and they need to add skills to whatever they have qualified for and also educate them along the line of entrepreneurship so that they can begin as resource people and fend for themselves. People who make tyre and POP come from West African countries and those who paint houses come from West African countries.
We need to do a lot of skill acquisition and entrepreneurship training and we need to build industrial centres where these kids could have access to take off from day one. In agriculture, government is making a lot of emphasis on increased production and I think that government should also spend time to think about what happens to these farm produce when they are all over the place, so we have to begin to think about converting the farm produce and adding value to them and this is where agric industrialization comes in.
So we need to build small scale industries around. If you go to Malaysia everything that comes out of the palm tree is money, but here we have our palm tree and we don’t do anything with what comes out of the palm trees. The same thing if you have mechanized agriculture and agro based industries by the side you will find out that nothing that you produce in the farm will go to waste.
The debate over restructuring has resurfaced and gaining momentum, is it an inevitable proposition and how do you think this government should approach it against the backdrop that the South wants it, while the North appears to be opposed to it?
Well let me make a categorical statement; Nigeria will find it extremely difficult like we have found in the past 100 years to move ahead politically without restructuring. The structure we are operating today isn’t known anywhere in the world. There is no country in the world that is a federation and still operates a unitary system.
It is only in a military regime that it works where the Commander in Chief gives orders to its military governors and down the line, but in a federating unit, there is a lot of autonomy and because this autonomy has been largely removed, they are all depending on the centre to feed them. But in a true federalism in the 1st and 2nd republics, the federating units were moving; the West was moving, the East was moving and the central government wasn’t starved of funds to do what it was supposed to do.
Now the discovery of oil in Nigeria is what has brought about this unitary system. It has also removed all incentives for the federating units to produce their own economy. Everybody waits at the end of the month for the money from crude oil to be shared around and they spend it. We don’t use it to grow money because we know at the end of next month, more money will come.
Now if the federating units are too small and not viable, we should be courageous enough to merge them to viable units. If you look at the raw materials across Nigeria and if you look at the human resources across Nigeria, I don’t know why you are afraid to have true federalism because I don’t see any of the six geo political zones of Nigeria that can’t survive even as a country today if they look inward. Maybe we have to wait until the crude oil completely finishes then it would become attractive for people to say ‘ok let us restructure’ for true federalism. It is something that we will have to do to survive as a country.
This may have explained why former president Goodluck Jonathan set up the 2014 National Conference and one of the issues raised was true federalism and there are arguments now that the report of the confab should be jettisoned. Do you agree with that?
You know Nigerians each time they have had a constitutional conference, they agree perfectly well on what they want to do, but somewhere between submitting the report and implementation, people tamper with these things and that is why we are where we are. You know when General Abacha did his conference, we had a beautiful document even the 2020 document, these things were master pieces, but when they gave us the constitution they tampered with it.
The same thing also happened in Babangida’s time and now the people of Nigeria spoke again only a year plus ago and some people believe that they know more than all the people gathered together to form this document. They think they have superior intellect than all the brains that Nigerians have produced that sat down there for a couple of weeks and produced those documents.
Any president who implements this would be remembered in history as a man who freed Nigeria because we are holding ourselves in bondage as long as you don’t implement those cardinal decisions that you arrived at during the conference we are just holding ourselves down in chains. So someone should have the courage to free us and implement that document.
Sir, if agitation in the Niger Delta is sustained, the Biafra struggle is sustained and the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East is not stopped, how will Nigeria survive?
The government is just making governance more and more difficult for themselves. There is a limit to which you can continue to use military power and violence to control this uprising. First and foremost, I don’t rule out military intervention when there are flash points of violence in the country, the security agencies must move in, but they haven’t solved the problem. Until government begins to listen and dialogue, then you get to the root cause of the problem and then you solve it.
When Babangida was here, he brought these Niger Delta boys to Abuja, spoke with them and made peace with them and he was selling his crude oil and his economy was good. When Yar’Adua was there, he made the most dramatic reconciliation between the federal government and the militants and Jonathan enjoyed it because we had uninterrupted produce from the Niger Delta. Now I don’t know why this government believes that the use of force would have been the first.
The same thing with the Independent People of Biafra, sending troops after these young men will not stop anything. Even I as an Igbo leader, I can’t tell them to stop and they will stop. This was how we ignored Boko Haram at the beginning because we didn’t take it seriously or we thought that it was something that would soon be over, but look at it today, look at how many people have been killed, how many people have been displaced, what about property? What about the economy in the North East?
These things should teach us that our country is a country where we have too many nationalities and we have come to a point where everyone is aware and nobody can take what belongs to every other person. So I believe that the government should reache out and tries to carry everybody along, tries to dialogue and most importantly think about restructuring so that people can go and fend for themselves, federal government can no longer fend for this kind of population with a mono economy, it isn’t possible.
Every part of Nigeria should be able to produce what can sustain them, they have the capacity to do so and they have the natural resources to do so.
President Buhari appears unwilling to give the Igbo nation a significant presence in his government. As an Igbo leader what do you think the people of the South a east should do to survive this?
The President himself is not a politician, his entire training has been in the military so he doesn’t see things the way we politicians see them. If I lose an election in any part of my constituency my strategy is to make sure that next time around I would win in that constituency and that is by reaching out to the people and convincing them that they were wrong for not voting me and that I can take care of them more than anybody else.
That doesn’t mean that I will ignore those that voted for me but I need to get those people who didn’t vote for me more in order to convince them to vote for me the next time, so I think that is the basic problem we have in this scenario. The President hasn’t been able to let go that he didn’t harvest votes from South East and South South and that being the case he has more or less marginalised them from his government. I believe that government needs to change its strategy completely and its approach to issues affecting South East and South South.
The President has to understand that if you win an election, you become the President of everybody and not just those that voted you.
To what extent can the Igbo nation endure Nigeria without presidency?
That is again another hot question because when you push someone to the wall and there is no other way to go the next thing is to turn back and fight. The Igbos have survived a civil war in this country, they have survived all sorts of marginalization. The safety vamp in all of this is that the Igbos are completely entrepreneurial people. Their entrepreneurship has been their sustaining will and nothing else.
In the South East, there are no roads, you can’t move from the capital of one South east state to another. In the South East there is no federal presence, we don’t have industries, we have to create all the infrastructure we need to survive. I went a few days ago to Nnewi and I visited a factory, Tom Tom, they have been producing Noodles and Pasta for the past 10 years on generator for 24 hours every day. Now if they had power in that factory, they will take over the whole West Africa and the African market, so we don’t have government presence in terms of road, power, water, and meeting all the enabling environment.
The Igbos especially the younger ones believe that if they had a country of their own called Biafra that they would be able to provide all these for the people and the country would be viable, but many of us who have gone through the Biafra war have questioned them because the independence of Biafra is really attractive if it is negotiated, but if you have to sit back and watch another cycle of problems, mass killing of our people, mass displacement of our people from their homes, I don’t think that they would like to go through such a trauma a second time within their history.
But that doesn’t mean the federal government should take our situation for granted, they need to meet the needs of the South East and we as elders will also be able to control the agitation of our people if the federal government is doing what they are supposed to do.
Sir are you still in PDP?
As a member and founding father of PDP, you have seen it all in PDP as a National Secretary and as former National Chairman. What was the dream of the founding fathers in PDP?
I will tell you three things that were driving us when we formed PDP; first, we believed that the resources of Nigeria weren’t properly managed and like I said before if you manage the resources of this country properly no Nigerian should remain hungry. Secondly, we believe that the military had not done too well in the management of the affairs of Nigeria and we wanted a lasting democracy so we went out not to form a progressive party or a conservative party.
We had the progressives like Rimi and others, we had the conservatives like Ekwueme and others; we brought everybody together believing that the problems of Nigeria were not problems of the progressiveness or conservativeness, it was a problem of solving Nigeria’s problems and everybody should bring their idea to solve this problem.
The third thing is that our country hasn’t been futuristic. We don’t plan for the future. Nigerians wait till the last minute and they want miracle to happen. So we believe that we should have short term, medium term and long term plans for our country and follow it religiously to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Now it hasn’t worked out that way.
I think the first major mistake that happened to PDP is that those who planned PDP were not the people who brought it into power when the election was won. President Obasanjo in spite of all the good things he has done was also the biggest problem that PDP had because his military background made it very difficult for him to understand democracy. He was constantly at loggerheads with the parliament. Money was being dumped on the table of the speaker to bribe, it was said that this money was being used to bribe the parliament to accept the demands of the executive.
In the party, the presidency was influencing the change of the party leadership in such a frequency that it was difficult to build the party. The institutions that are critical for democracy were being muscled by a strong president from a military background and therefore as we speak today, the democratic institutions in the country are still very weak whether it is in the parliament or the party structure or the judiciary.
All the institutions that strengthen the democracy of the country 16 years down the line are still weak and that wasn’t what we wanted and because Obasanjo came at the beginning all of this he had influenced the dramatic personnel that have succeeded in all of this democratic institutions more or less for hind sight if it wasn’t for selfish issues, it was for wrong judgement.
So today, in the position of authority in Nigeria two things are important; money and godfather rather than the quality of the person as decided through an internal democracy by the people.
So the way the democracy has been managed has weakened the democratic institutions and it affected PDP tremendously. We were able to patch it up for the 16 years we were in power using the robust power of the presidency and majority of the state governors and majority of the parliament and as soon as we lost the presidency, all our parts came tumbling down. Some of us saw it coming before the last election, but unfortunately all the alarms we raised were ignored until it happened and now to have the presidency and put the party together has become very difficult.
You said some of you saw it coming?
Did you see the choice of former President Jonathan and the printing of one nomination form as part of it and was your idea of having e-registration which was frustrated part of it?
All the things I wanted to do for PDP as chairman if they had allowed me to do them the party would not have lost the election. He who pays the piper dictates the tune and I wanted PDP to be financially independent. Using e-registration, the party would have a revenue of not less than 11 billion every year which was sufficient to fund the party structure from the national down to the ward level. Now people who wanted to control or dictate the tune never wanted the party to be financially independent so that they will continue to dictate what happens in the party. That was one problem.
Secondly these same people wanted to have complete monopoly of who is a party member and they disenfranchised those they didn’t want to be party members. So in order to have 100 percent control of the party structure, they didn’t want e-registration because in e-registration you can stay in any part of the world and fill your e-membership registration online and you become a member of the party and your name would immediately enter your ward register and no one can stop you.
So these two things that would have done with e-registration would have brought membership to the party, it would have guaranteed financial independence to the party. The third thing, I tried to do for the party was to bring back internal democracy. When we went to Jos we had about seven presidential aspirants and by the end of the primaries when they saw transparency, they conceded victory to General Obasanjo and all of them went with him round the country to campaign because they accepted defeat seeing that everything was transparent.
When you impose a candidate you have to buy votes for him because the people who refused him at the primaries will not come out of their homes to vote and campaign for him. So internal democracy was critical. By the time I left PDP they had 11 billion in fixed account and 800 million in current account. These were all monies we made from sales of nomination form and expression of interest. Now this could be sustained for membership good and the whole thing was planned in a situation that the party wasn’t spending 10 kobo.
The participating banks and our consultants agreed on percentage that they will take from how much we are making every month. We give them what is their percentage then we have a percentage for the 6 zonal offices in the country. We have a percentage for the 36 states and the FCT. We had a percentage for the structures in the Senatorial zones.