By Bola A. Akinterinwa
“For a Better Nigeria” was the title of an interesting article authored by Major General Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu, a two-time former Minister of External Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and published in the Vanguard of Monday, 3rd September, 2018, p.37. The article is interesting from many perspectives. First, it is an advocacy, seeking ‘a better Nigeria.’ This objective means that the situation is already good, and therefore, there is the need to improve on the extent of the existing goodness. The objective can also imply that the situational reality on the ground is not good, and there is the need to make it good, in which case, a movement from a worst to a worse situation still implies an improvement, and hence, the worse scenario can still be considered as better.
Secondly, it is interesting because it was published under the newspaper’s ‘Discourse Column,’ meaning that the topic is presented to the general public for further debate. It is written to share ideas with other citizens of Nigeria. Thirdly, and more importantly, it is written to coincide with General Nwachukwu’s 80th Birthday Anniversary. Besides, the article is a primary source of information for scientific research, given the pedigree of the author.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the thrust of the article is that ‘the present structure of Nigeria inhibits the development of the country.’ Consequently, ‘it is imperative that we restructure to what it was before the 1966 military coup.’ Put differently, General Ike Nwachukwu surely belongs to the restructuring school of thought to which very serious-minded senior citizens of Nigeria belong. In this school are Professor Ben Nwabueze, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, etc.
Without scintilla of doubt, General Nwachukwu, also former Minister of Labour and Productivity and former Military Governor of the Old Imo State, had reasons to justify the call for restructuring. In the past almost one year, he has been speaking on the need for restructuring in Nigeria. For instance, in 2017, he told Nigerians at the retreat of the Southern Senators Forum in Calabar that it would be unjust not to have the recommendations of the report of the 2014 National Conference implemented, because most of the agitations by Nigerians have been covered.
As he put it then, he ‘had the privilege in 2005 of serving as a member of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s political reform conference and it rolled into 2014 National Conference… [T]he mount of work put into the 2014 conference, of course, building on the outcome of the 2005 conference, produced fantastic report. It will be total injustice to Nigeria if the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference are jettisoned. Most of what we are talking about today were raised there, and after several weeks of grinding discussions, the report was drafted.’
What should be noted at this juncture is the question raised by General Nwachukwu himself: what would he say he had bequeathed to Nigeria if he gets called by God? This is an important question because of the fear of God intrinsic in it. But what really is the fear of God in political governance? It is probably in an attempt to answer this question that he advised his ‘Senior Colleague, President Muhammadu Buhari,’ to take advantage of the opportunity ‘to bequeath to the generation coming after us a country on the path of unity, better understanding and love for one another.’
Again, what are the dynamics of love for one another? Christian and Muslim leaders always preach the need for love for one another, and yet, the more they preach for love, the more the existence of animosity for one another in Nigeria. How do we explain this situation? General Nwachukwu also attended the summit on restructuring, with the theme, ‘Yoruba Stand Point,’ held on Thursday 7th September, 2017 at the Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan .
In the same vein, on Saturday, April 16, 2018, General Nwachukwu presided over the Vanguard Newspapers Award Night. At the event, he made ‘the call for the restructuring of our country, to remain united as a nation under God. We need to devolve the over-concentration of powers at the centre, whilst allowing the federating units more autonomy. And just as we are seeking devolution of powers to the state governments, as federating units, from the centre, so should the state governments guarantee the autonomy of the Local Governments under them.’
From the foregoing, there is no disputing Ike Nwachukwu’s sagacious undertones of the various calls for restructuring for the purposes of a better Nigeria. But can mere declaratory calls for a better Nigeria be sufficient as a solution? How does the political elite behave? What really is Nigeria’s main problem? General Nwachukwu believes that there is the need for a true federal system in which no one is oppressed. In other words, it can be deductively argued that he detests the oppression of any Nigerian.
In his own words, ‘it behoves on Nigerians and our politicians to deliver on the restructuring of this country in order to have a true federation, in which no one is oppressed… It is only when we achieve this that our country will be stable, its security guaranteed and its economy thriving for the betterment of all.’ Can a true federation be ensured without true Nigerians? Who are Nigerians and who are true Nigerians?
On May 4, 2017, in his interview with journalists at the meeting between the Primate of All Nigeria (Anglican Communication) and other prominent Anglicans in Abuja, General Nwachukwu said whoever does not want the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report cannot but be requesting Nigerians ‘to vent out their feelings’ in an unfair manner. Also strongly believing in the demilitarisation of the polity, General Nwachukwu noted in an address entitled ‘Safeguarding Nigeria’s Unity and Sovereignty: A Patriotic and Constitutional Imperative for the Nigerian Army,’ that Nigeria has faced several challenges threatening her unity since 1960.
As further explained by the General, ‘the military did certain things that can be adjudged just as good. Some of these are the militarisation of our society and, to a large extent, our democracy. It will not be untrue that, the military experiment at nation building has not worked for the better in Nigeria… To achieve the spirit of oneness, we need a mind-set which allows for tolerance and better understanding which will remove, in large measure, the trust deficit among our people.’
The main challenge of General Nwachukwu’s ideological standpoint is how to make Nigeria a better country. His solution is political restructuring. It is restructuring that can unite Nigeria and this can only be attained if the trust deficit among Nigerians is removed, if attitudinal tolerance is developed, if there is better understanding of one another, and if there is love for one another. But true, there can never be better understanding in the absence of love for one another.
But how can love be generated for one another in the face of reckless elite dishonesty and political chicanery that is generally acquiesced to by the people? Since General Nwachukwu’s article is written for the purposes of public discourse, we contend here that it is not possible to make Nigeria better through restructuring unless those seeking restructuring are first restructured. The example of the supervision of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs not only serves as a reference point but clearly shows the contradiction in preaching goodness but doing the contrary at the same time. It was Sir Victor Uwaifor who said in one of his songs that ‘do what I say but not what I do.’ But why do you command others to do what is said when the person saying it does not even believe in it? This is the juncture where acts of serious misconduct and Nigeria’s main problem are located.
Protection of Serious Misconduct
Speaking grosso modo first, Nigeria is a special terra cognita for official and officious protection of acts of serious misconduct, and yet its people will be asking for divine blessings. Government officials always tell the people of Nigeria that corruption is the main problem militating against the development of the country. However, they are not able to address the root cause of the problem. What they succeed in always doing well is to arrest Nigerians suspected to have engaged in corruption and prosecuting them. That, in itself, is good but it does not address the root cause, the institutional agent of corruption which is the Federal Government and State Government, as well as its agencies at the official level, and the financial and socio-educational institutions at the officious level. The people of Nigeria who acquiesce to various societal ills are all agents of corruption at the private sector level.
How is the Federal Government an agent of serious misconduct? In April 1994, that is, more than 24 years ago, the Minister of Works and Housing, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, placed a public advert inviting interested Nigerians to apply for houses to be built and allocated by end of December 1994. I was one of the tens of thousands Nigerians who applied in Lagos. I made payment for the required choice of house I wanted. More than 24 years now, the Federal Government has not allocated any house. It has not issued any letter of allocation. It is not even talking about it. Yet, it is fighting corruption, the genesis of which the Professor J.S. Cookey-led Political Bureau traced back to 1967. In other words, corruption as the bane of the Nigerian society has remained a critical issue for almost fifty years without any solution in sight. Government is seeking solution at the level of the people while it is covering up the atrocities at the level of the Governmental agencies.
In other words, at the level of the State Government and the Federal Capital Territory, the situation is not different. At the level of the Lagos State Government, for instance, l was allocated land under the Isheri North Housing Project when Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, then military governor of Lagos State then. For alleged reasons of force majeure, especially flood, no allocation letter has been made meaningful. Again, no one in the government is talking about it.
The FCT dimension is, perhaps, more disturbing. It is not about allocating land. It is more about houses already built and sold to public servants and incumbent occupants of the houses and flats. It is about blocks of flats, official houses sold under the monetisation programme under President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR. I had the opportunity of buying a flat, fully paid for, and yet, the FCT authority has not been able to issue the relevant Certificate of Occupation after more than a decade.
The important point here is that inefficiency is a major catalytic dynamic of corruption in Nigeria. In the face of inefficiency, and wrong belief of the people that if you want your Certificate of Occupation urgently, or your letter of allocation from government, you will need to go and settle the officials in the Nigerian fashion. This is consistent with the people’s saying that ‘if you cannot beat them, join them.’ Under normal circumstance, a reasonable and patriotic person should not join any bandwagon. As majority of Nigerians are reasonable, they simply keep quiet and prefer to be on-lookers, a situation that is also most unfortunate.
Most unfortunate, because, institutional corruption is very critical in Nigeria. Banks cautiously defraud the Government of its entitlements. Electricity generating and distributing companies defraud their clients through estimated bills and Government remains a silent observer. Telecommunications service providers defraud their customers with impunity. In Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, traffic indiscipline is at its crescendo: motorcyclists, Keke Marwa, etc, not only drive against traffic but are also claiming priority of passage, even with the assistance of the traffic wardens. The problem is first with the people of Nigeria. The problem is the attitudinal outlook of the Nigerian placed in a position of trust. It is how the people put in position of trust interpret the rule of law, and resultantly, how to follow the due process in the application of the rules. This observation now brings us to the specific illustration of the NIIA dimension of promotion of corruption in Nigeria by the very people required to prevent it.
NIIA: Restructuring versus Corruption
The manifestations of serious misconduct at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) were most unfortunate for various reasons. The most critical were the fact that the Governing Council of the NIIA was headed by the same General Ike Omar Nwachukwu, who can be rightly described as a true Nigerian per excellence. He is a Nigerian by ius sanguinis. His father is Igbo and of Igbo descent. The mother is Fulani from Katsina in the North. The wife is a Niger Deltan from the South-South. It is understandable therefore why it cannot but be quite difficult for him to be the friend of one ethnic group and the enemy of the other. However, his character of Nigerianess and soft-spoken nature was very lacking in his chairmanship of the NIIA Council.
Secondly, the membership of the Council qualified to be called first class without any jot of gainsaying. A seasoned former Permanent Secretary, a former State Chief of Protocol, tested professors, and not political professors, etc were members of the Council. In spite of the enviable personality of the members, and particularly the chief proponent of economic diplomacy as the Chairman of Council, the academic culture or tradition of the NIIA was completely bastardised and destroyed under the Ike-Nwachukwu-led Council, to the extent that it will take a long time before the NIIA can be revived from its anaesthetic condition.
In this regard, let me note here that I was the Director General of the NIIA when General Ike Nwachukwu was the Chairman of the Governing Council. Consequently, my account here is not about hearsay and not an attempt to malign anyone or reveal classified information. What I intend to say here is to affirm the truth so that whoever has another version of the truth can also freely take me up in whichever way he or she deems fit.
In this regard, for instance, I reported the case of the then Director of Administration and Finance, Miss Agatha Ude, who changed a promotion examination result to favour some staff, to the Council. This was criminally and sanctionable by possible dismissal if found guilty. What did the Council do? It simply covered it up. The Council dictated the contents of a second letter to assessors of professorial candidates and not only got the contact addresses of the assessors but also dispatched the letters to them by itself. This is never done in any academic institution in any part of the world, but it was done under and by the Ike Nwachukwu-led NIIA Governing Council.
One of the two professorial candidates qualified to be an NIIA professor, even though it was thanks to the direct and abnormal intervention of the Governing Council, the other candidate only passed marginally and could not obtain the two points on three as required for qualification for appointment as an NIIA professor. Yet, the supervisory authority, that is, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was induced into error to ratified the promotion which should not have been done under normal circumstances.
In fact, the then Director of Research and Studies, Professor Ogaba Oche, unprofessionally disclosed classified information on the particulars of assessors of the professorial candidates, thus enabling the candidates to know who their assessors were. This was unprecedented in the academic history of the NIIA. This can seriously endanger the life of the assessors when candidates are not recommended for promotion.
He also unprofessionally misinformed General Ike Nwachukwu that papers for assessment were not normally sent abroad. He wanted results speedily without due process this time around. This prompted the Council Chairman to compel me not to send papers for assessment to experts wherever they were in the world but only in Nigeria. The academic tradition at the NIIA required the sending of papers to anywhere the best scholar on a given issue is. The Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council brought in a manu militari governance and end up destroying what made the NIIA thick. The NIIA is now a shadow of itself.
Perhaps more disturbingly, a member of the Council, Ambassador Pius Ayewoh, claiming to be seeking peace and progress in the institute, was advising Dr. Efem Ubi in his pressuring struggle for promotion to become a Research Fellow 1. The advice appeared to have eventually strengthened Dr. Ubi to the extent of not allowing him to know how not to assault people indecently in the public. Dr Efem Ubi unbefittingly assaulted my wife in 2016. The matter was referred to the police and to the court. He and his wife were prosecuted and convicted by a competent law court. What the Public Service Regulation says is that any convicted civil or public servant must be immediately put on suspension following conviction until the final determination by the Public Service Commission. However, this does not mean anything to the Management of the NIIA which has ignored the regulation, and yet everyone is talking about rule of law. The non-compliance by the Management of the NIIA is in itself an act of misconduct.
The foregoing is simply to draw attention to the fallouts of the indiscipline promoted by the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council at the NIIA. General Nwachukwu was seeking justice by making the Director General to pay N90,000 monthly rent for a four-bedroom flat while other research fellows, Dr. Efem Ubi, and Dr Joshua Bolarinwa, were made to pay N12,000 and N14,000 respectively for the same four-bedroom flat in the same block of flats, with the same facilities, etc.
But why was this so? Why was the Council indirectly against me as Director General? Many reasons but the untold one and which no one will be eager to talk about is the capital project of re-furbishing and reconstructing the existing Director General’s building. I built a new international conference centre. The Council was not interested in the building but only in the financing of the project. Accusations of not following the due process were levied against me but everyone knew it was politics of untruth. All manners of allegations were brought before me but I challenged the Council to show in whatever form I have stolen any public funds or received any form of gratification. No allegation but secret malicious reports which they are not courageous to allow to be confronted with the truth. Up till this time, we still wait for the time the Council’s report would be made available to the public to enable people see why people are asking for restructuring as a means for self-preservation and security.
Even though all the various acts of indiscipline by staff were reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially under Ambassador Bulus Lolo as Permanent Secretary, he not only kept quiet but only aided and abetted the non-completion of the equipping of the conference centre. All the actors believed life would end with the non-renewal of my appointment. In fact, my entitlements up till now are yet to be paid following retirement. On the basis of truth, I am surviving contrary to their expectation.
What really are we trying to suggest with the case of the NIIA in the context of General Ike Nwachukwu’s quest for restructuring? The suggestion is that if General Ike Nwachukwu could aid and abet serious misconduct, if he could condone and promote corruption at the NIIA, if the various government agencies which reportedly had not investigated my complaints to the Council or complaints against me but took decisions on the basis of a one-sided investigation, and if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President himself can afford the luxury of keeping silent over cases of injustice and unfairness referred to them, General Ike Nwachukwu cannot be qualified to be preaching any sermon on restructuring. To do so cannot but be an engagement in double speak and this cannot be a good way forward. As such, what then is the quo vadis?
The only way forward is truth and honesty objectivity of purpose as foundation of political governance. Influence politics to cover up atrocity only destroys the country and cannot be helpful to the quest for restructuring. The Governing Council incited staff against me, destroyed discipline in the NIIA, and planted disrespect in my own quest for academic restructuring in the institute. The main responsibility of the Council is to ensure good governance and academic productivity but the Council was more interested in other things.
For as long as the people, and particularly the political elite, will remain dishonest, and unnecessarily acquiesce to societal ills, there is no way they will not again carry their attitudinal dishonesty to any post-restructured new polity. Consequently, the first challenge to be addressed in the quest for restructuring is honesty of purpose and fairness. The malicious secret reports written on me can only influence decisions on temporary basis, but cannot destroy the truth on permanent basis. Time will tell. Let us start the struggle for restructuring in Nigeria by simply telling the truth and nothing but the truth. This is the first and main challenge for the Nigerian political elite.