In an interview with newsmen, Abia State governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu stated that no other tribe had demonstrated commitment to one indivisible Nigeria than the Igbos citing the various investments they have in every part of the country. Iyobosa Uwugiaren was there. Excerpts:
We will like to hear your experience of the activities of the military in the south east, especially Abia State and the classification of IPOB as a terrorist group. What role did the south east governors play in that controversy?
If the questions we ask in this country today are whether there are inequalities, there are gaps, there are people who donâ€™t feel that they have been fairly treated either as an individual or as a family or as a geopolitical zone, the answer is yes. There is agitation in the north east, there is a agitation in the south west, of course there is agitation in the south east but I dare say that there is no other ethnic group in this country that has as much faith in the Nigeria as a country, one united country than the people of the south east, that is why they are in Sambisa. You can count how many big businesses belonging to the south westerners that are in Aba. You can count how many big businesses belonging to the people from the north east, north west, north central that you can find in Owerri, you cannot find a four storey building belonging to somebody from the north east anywhere in the south east. But if you go to Kano, you donâ€™t count three hotels before you count that of somebody from the south east. What it means is that we are the people that have demonstrated faith in the united Nigeria.
Post war experience is that everybody started receding and then we started moving everywhere and then at the end of the day, our people are beginning to feel that we are not being trusted enough with certain strategic positions despite the fact that we have demonstrated in particular times that we love Nigeria more than anybody, we have faith in this country more than anybody. That coupled with the fact that there is huge potential energy within the youth community in Nigeria that is unused because the problem of unemployment in Nigeria for me as a biochemist, I look at it as mismanagement of energy; people have too much energy they canâ€™t use it anywhere. So the idea is that all these agitations bottled up and all that created what you call IPOB. And then, the federal government over time started watching from the side-line because IPOB was getting money from elsewhere, setting up radio stations, indoctrinating people, all that went on. But while that was going on, at a point, the leadership of the south east through Ohaneze, through the governors started engaging Nnamdi to say, we know that there are issues. Can we find alternative channels to discuss them? Can we make studied and intellectual presentations and confront the federal government with these arguments. But he felt that his own strategy was better and all that. So, I think it got to a point when the federal government began to feel that the red line was threatened and unfortunately some of us as governors were not taken into confidence as to the details and plans and intentions of the federal government and it is the irony of this thing they call governors as chief security officers; a chief security officer but you are not controlling the Commissioner of Police, the soldiers around you, the navy around you, you cannot tell them to stop, you cannot tell them where to go. So that clash came up on us in Abia state and I was confronted as a leader to make a choice between the oath I swore, what was politically expedient and what was right and I think what was right was for me to do everything to protect the lives and properties of Abians and those that are doing business in Abia. So all that I did, the press releases, my actions, all that I did was geared towards fulfilling my mandate which was to protect lives and properties of not only Abians but of everybody that was within Abia doing business. I did not wish for one soul to die, whether IPOB or a Fulani man or a Kogi man, I didnâ€™t want anybody to lose his life or for us to begin to spill blood in my state. My mother told me that everybody should do everything to make sure that war does not ensue in his motherâ€™s kitchen because the pots will break, the plates will break and after the war, with what are you going to eat? So, I do not want a war in my kitchen. If there must be war, let the war go elsewhere not in my kitchen.
Why did you decide to take the made-in-Aba products campaign abroad when the government is yet to do what is expected of it in Aba — to make the city a business hub?
Aba is a business hub naturally and nobody can dispute that. The only thing we are saddled with is to enhance the business environment, open up access, do something about security and ensure that there is steady electricity supply. One has to think about strategy. When I became governor two years ago, the greatest challenge, by my analysis, was putting made-in- Japan, made-in-Taiwan, made -in-Dubai on the articles they produced and I felt that it was a fall-out of some complex, inferiority complex. So you see along the spectrum of economic development, industrialization, promotion of small and medium scale enterprises, you have issues with the manufacturers themselves and you also have issues of infrastructure. But the most difficult is the social issue which is the psyche of the manufacturer. It doesnâ€™t matter what you do, if somebody is not motivated, if somebody feels he is inferior, the person will hardly be able to market his article. So we decided, strategically, to begin to carry development from two fronts: one, to do something about the basic infrastructure in Aba. We have done 23 completed roads in Aba as I speak today. We are doing the first ever interchange or what they call flyover in Aba today. The fallout of our efforts in terms of the campaign of the made-in-Aba thing has attracted direct sales about N1.3billion. Remember the 50,000 pairs of shoes for the military, remember our campaign to the customs, NYSC and all that; the direct impact from the Aba economy is that those shoe makers, those leather makers, those bag makers have seen an inflow of about N1.3billion direct to them. Beyond that we are building an industrial cluster which is purposely built for leather and garments. Once again I am excited that the federal government and almost every Nigerian today are listening. The perception about Aba today is no longer a no-go-area. People are better known today for their creativity and what they can do with their hands. I donâ€™t want people to see our youths as criminals and bandits. When you see an average Abia man, you begin to think about creativity, you begin to think about a hard working person. We have been able to bring the Vice President on two separate occasions as he launched the first MSME clinic, an interface with licencing agents, standardization agents, all agents that are concerned with the growth and promotion of MSME in Nigeria.
They came first time face to face with each other and today, the average Aba business man knows that NAFDAC should be an enabler, a promoter of business, not a stumbling block or a barricade. Now if I want to answer your question directly why did we decide to take this made in Aba thing to New York? First of all we started in Abuja, the first made in Aba fashion show was held in Abuja and on that day I remembered vividly the American embassy sent 30 delegates to come and see the kind of leather works, the kind of garments, the kind of bags that Abia people have produced and had on exhibition and it was very successful. If you have a good product and you are proud of your product; if you recall from the first day I assumed office, I said all my dresses would be made in Aba and if you want to advertise that product, the best thing for you to do is to find the highest point on the plateau, if you have a mountain, climb. If you have a 10-storey building, climb and on top of that building, begin to talk about that article or merchandise that you are proud of. Abuja is the melting point. That led to our seizing the opportunity of the Abia family meeting in New York where the entire Abia people in New York come annually for a convention and we decided to begin to also make that statement there. A few weeks before this made in Aba fashion show, I was in North Carolina and I met the governor and the governor agreed and approved that his chief of staff, an American lady married to a Yoruba man would grace that occasion and other things happened. And then, there was an international agency that markets arts from Africa. So we said, well, I need to begin to do something about the psyche and the confidence of these shoe makers. If you recall, I have taken them to Turkey, to China and today, their New York experience has redefined how they perceived what they produce. Because my frustration was that a young man will spend 18 hours on a machine, producing something with his bare hands, wakes up in the morning and gives credit to somebody in Taiwan who was sleeping, who did not do anything and we have redefined all that now. So, they have come to realise that even the thing in America, Turkey and China is not as beautiful as what we are producing in Nigeria. It is as important to build the confidence of the primary artisans as it is important also to provide basic infrastructure.
Power infrastructure is very critical to the industry. Yes, to a large extent, the federal government provides that. How are you tackling that issue too?
Yes, we take it quite seriously. When I came in, I inherited the geometric project which is a private sector driven project to provide light for the Abia University area and I took up to speak with Emeka Ofor who is the EEDC boss and the Enugu DISCO who has the licence and franchise for distribution. The idea is that thing has generated electricity but you cannot distribute because somebody else is holding that end of the stick and then we brought them together and we encouraged the federal government and they reached an agreement and they at a point where money needs to change hands now and one of them will take charge and Aba will begin to enjoy uninterrupted power supply. But beyond that, the problem was to raise the money that would change hands ultimately, so I had to be also part of a team that included Pascal Dozie, Prof. Nnaji, Gen. Omayi (rtd) to Afrixim bank where we met the President of Afrixim bank in Cairo and the element of our discussions was also to see how they could provide the resources to fund geometric. I did not rest there, I also visited the Minister for Power and his own solution is the one we are test running now. He got us together with the rural agencies in charge of rural electrification and today they are unbundling. What I mean is that if you have an industry or a cluster of industries, they will do some survey and then begin to provide electricity specific for that area. So they have tested power there for two weeks now, some parts of Ariaria has enjoyed uninterrupted power for 2 weeks and they are trying to expand now and see how we can capture the entire Ariaria shoe plaza where they produce shoes and leather and all that. But I think for the Aba industrial area, we are doing something about electricity.
Malami: Quality of Today’s Northern Leaders Pathetic
After the demise of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, the north has not been fortunate to have good leaders, a former Bauchi State Commissioner for Health and President of the Nigerian Cancer Society, Professor Abubakar Sani Malami has said. He spoke to Segun Awofadeji who presents the excerpts:
Has Nigeria achieved the objectives of the founding fathers?
As a nation, Nigeria has had its own fair share of achievements and challenges. That we have remained one, the so-called giant of Africa, is truly remarkable and commendable. It is especially for this reason that I do not share the view that Nigeria is a mere â€œgeographical expressionâ€. However, it is highly regrettable that almost 60 years after independence, we are still unable to feed ourselves. It is equally tragic that the nation cannot guarantee the safety and economic well-being of the majority of our citizens. Ironically our coat of arms proclaims â€œUnity, Peace and Progressâ€ as a national mantra. It goes without saying that all three goals remain mere dreams.
One of the dreams of the great Sardauna, Ahmadu Bello, is to establish a fully developed Northern Nigeria that can match any modern civilisation in the world. Have these dreams been realised?
The late Sardauna was an unfortunate giant who bequeathed midgets. He was a highly cultured man, visionary leader and above all, a selfless servant of the common man. The legacies he left in 1966 have yet to be equalled much less-improved. The quality of leaders we have today in Northern Nigeria is pathetic. It is sad that to a very large extent we are where we are now because the generation that succeeded the founding fathers in the corridors of power to-date have been a great disappointment. For instance, if we take gainful employment, efficient health care delivery, functional literacy and infrastructure as surrogate markers of societal development, which part of Northern Nigeria could be said to be even partially developed? If you move around the north all you will see is deprivation, abandoned factories and decaying infrastructure. The hitherto efficient rail system is gone; the Kano pyramids are gone; the typical farmer or herdsman has become pauperised. Even our historical artefacts have not been spared, all simply because we have lacked quality leadership.
What are the problems with Nigeria and how can they be overcome?
I am a believer in the Nigerian project. I am convinced that our best days lie ahead. But it is worth noting that the story of Nigeria is that of huge unrealised potential essentially because we have lacked inspirational leadership. The perception that Nigerians are inherently corrupt is wrong. We are not a lazy people. The reality is that bad governance has made many of us unpatriotic. We now tend to think first in terms of the self, clans and tribe in that order. Nonetheless, there is hope that the nation will soon get it right in view of the current efforts in favour of generational shift. I wholly subscribe to that and believe that my generation is equal to the task of nation building.
Do you think Nigeria should be renegotiated by all ethnic partners to chart a better course for it?
As an individual I am unable to find the nexus between under development and a perception of persecution by one region or another. It goes without saying that once again dark clouds are hanging over the nation. But it is important that we understand the context under which the current wave of ethnic nationalism has prospered. It has been argued, and very eloquently too, that the solution to Nigeriaâ€™s problems is to restructure it so that the centre (federal government) becomes less powerful. In the ensuing debate it has become fashionable to blame Northern Nigeria. A majority of those who propose this position conveniently forget that an all powerful Federal Government was a creation of Decree No.34 of 1966 which was created by former Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi. For whatever reason, his own Igbo kinsmen are now vehemently opposed to it and complain of being marginalised. It may well be true that they are indeed marginalised and a form of settlement should be found to assuage their fears while at the same time protecting the interests of the other 460 or so tribes in Nigeria. However, as a friend of the East, I am disappointed that for all intents and purposes the Igbo political leadership, the diaspora and intelligentsia have openly embraced the violent and extremist ideology of the IPOB. The militant and hostile posturing of that group should be replaced by one marked by mutual respect and understanding. It is time the people of Eastern Nigeria foud a more credible platform to actualise their dreams.
If you move around the north all you will see is deprivation, abandoned factories and decaying infrastructure