Friday, October 9, 2009

Irukwu on Nigeria: 'God is fed up with Us

By Ndubuisi Orji, Sun News Online

Former President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Professor Joseph Irukwu (SAN) has said that the problem of ethnicity is a major impediment to the development of the Nigerian State. He said the country would begin to triumph, the day it puts ethnicity behind in its national life, especially in producing the leadership of the country.

The eminent lawyer and Insurance guru told Daily Sun in an interview in Lagos that ethnicity is not only a Nigerian problem, but also a major challenge confronting the African continent.

His words “Ethnicity is still an impediment to the development of the Nigerian nation of our dream. It is also a major African problem, especially in multi-ethnic nations like Nigeria. This is why we still talk about an Igbo President, a Yoruba President, a Hausa-Fulani President, an Ijaw President and so on. Nigeria as a modern nation would triumph the day we elect national leaders entirely on the basis of their personal merits and attributes, without considering the ethnic factor.

“We have some lessons to learn from the American system that produced an Obama who is an African-American with a father who is a Luo from Kenya. Interestingly, in Kenya today, it would have been virtually impossible for the Kikuyu and other Kenyan ethnic groups to elect an Obama, a Luo as President, just as Nigerians are not in a hurry to elect an Igbo or an Eastern Nigerian as President, 49 years after independence.”

The elder statesman who also bared his mind on Nigeria’s forty nine years of nationhood, his alleged support for the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term project and the leadership question in Nigeria said the salvation of the country lies within Nigeria.

According to him, the growth and development of Nigeria depends on the Nigerian people and the leadership. He said no outsider is “qualified” to solve the problems confronting the country.

However, he said God would intervene in the affairs of the country when it becomes evident that Nigerians especially the leadership class has taken steps towards building a country founded on equity and justice.


Nigeria is 49 years old. How have we fared as a nation?

In 1960 when Nigeria achieved its political independence, we were students in England. It was a glorious event, which we celebrated with a great sense of achievement and satisfaction as we welcomed with pride the birth of our own nation, free from what we saw as the indignity of colonialism.

We had very high hopes at independence. These high hopes, inspired by our vision of a great African nation, was sustained during the first few years of independence. During those early years, the pattern of governance under the Federal Parliamentary System was simple, dignified and inexpensive. The political leadership protected and respected the interests and well-being of the people. The term 419 was only known by lawyers and policemen as a section of the Criminal Code. Violent crimes, abuse of office and social injustice were relatively unknown. As a result, we enjoyed a reasonable measure of political and social stability, as well as national unity and cohesion.

Although we were not a rich country and had not yet embraced the “oil boom”, the country enjoyed a good measure of social and economic development. Poverty was not a problem then as most ordinary Nigerians were well fed. Because the quality of leadership was generally high and selfless, the people responded appropriately. The Nigerian society at Federal and regional levels, were on balance, more humane and better disciplined than what we have today. Quality education and character building was very much a part of our national culture, especially for those aspiring to leadership positions at regional and federal levels, and Nigerians were respected internationally.

The genesis of our national political problems was that the democratic process was stifled in its infancy when our post-independence political stability had not been firmly established. As a result, we experienced many traumatic and destabilizing political upheavals climaxing in a most tragic civil war. This civil war marked the beginning of our decline as a nation and the virtual collapse of our value system, as well as the end of our respect for institutions, our human life and we in general. It was the beginning of the invasion of the country’s leadership by individuals who were not equipped for democratic leadership functions. This tragic invasion of the country’s leadership introduced the money culture which destroyed quality leadership based on character and integrity. With the civil war, violent crimes set in and our national politics declined to the extent that integrity, good leadership, self respect, respect for our institutions and for others virtually gave way to the “money cult”, abuse of office and corruption at all levels of society.

Forty-nine years after independence, the only factor that matters most in our national political culture is money, no matter how it was acquired. Those, who have it in abundance, hold those who do not have it in total contempt because they know that they can acquire practically everything with their money, including the people and their votes. At 49, our major national problems are corruption, ethnicity, poverty and massive unemployment amongst our youth, which breed violent crimes, indiscipline and insecurity including the new wave of kidnapping for ransom which was totally alien to our national culture.

The universal perception today is that we now have a society that breed poverty in the midst of plenty, with the leadership elite not showing much visible concern for the poverty-stricken ordinary Nigerians. This general perception tends to fuel the cynical and hostile attitude of the people towards the leadership elite, which is not good for societal equilibrium. There is nothing new in these views, which have been expressed by several discerning Nigerians before now.

Many people are of the view that the leadership of the country has not been what it is supposed to be. What is your take on that?

On the issue of the Nigerian leadership, I am unable to dispute the point impliedly made by your question, to the effect that many Nigerians feel betrayed and let down by the country’s leadership in most important respects. Unfortunately, that happens to be the view of millions of Nigerians and they cite several reasons in support of these views. There is some merit in your suggestion that plurality of leadership, on the whole, is not “what it is supposed to be” to use your own words.

Considering our vast human resources. Our past records, the many good people we have in the country and the excellent records of several Nigerians in all disciplines from all parts of the country, including those serving or working abroad, it is difficult to explain the poor performance of the country’s leadership in most institutions at home. There must be something seriously wrong with our systems, institutions and values as well as the process through which our leaders are selected or emerge. However, as we blame our leaders, we should examine ourselves, our society and the systems that produce these leaders. We should also blame the followers and institutions that create these leaders we complain about, especially as we help to empower and sustain them. There must be some merit in the universal axiom, which reminds us that most human societies produce the kind of leaders they deserve at all material times.

What then is the way forward for the country?

The way forward is a positive change of attitude by the country and it’s leadership. We must return to those values that made us great and respectable. There was a time when Nigerians and their leaders were highly respected nationally and internationally. As we propagate the present Administration’s re-branding project, we must also re-invent those values, institutions and systems that made us great. Nigeria is one of the most highly endowed nations in the world and we have the natural and human resources to make us a world power. With commitment on the part of the people and the leadership, we can achieve the desired positive change that should propel us to the better Nigerian nation of our dream, a nation that would be a source of pride to all Nigerians, irrespective of their belief or religious orientation.

My belief is that our future depends on the people of Nigeria and our leadership. No outsider is qualified to solve our problems for us. Some well meaning Nigerians genuinely concerned about the continuing decline of our national values and institutions have been praying to God for salvation and redemption. Unfortunately, the indications are that God is so fed-up with our antics that that He does not seem ready to intervene, until we have taken some practical steps to atone for our sins. God’s intervention will come only when it becomes evident that Nigerians especially the leadership elite, have started taking positive steps towards the building of the African nation founded on equity, justice, and with a committed God fearing selfless leadership. Only then will God grant us the redemption and salvation we desperately require as part of our national transformation.

The national transformation exercise should begin now and we should start by eliminating all those negative factors that impede our national stability, progress and development. In the process, we should note that there are broadly two types of Nigerians with each group fully represented within the leadership class. The first group is those who passionately and genuinely believe in the Nigerian national concept and are therefore willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure that Nigeria survives and thrives. The second group are those who have no interest in or have lost interest in the Nigerian experiment for several reasons and would like it dead sooner or later. This second group are not interested in any lasting solutions to our numerous national problems. All they want is to stick around for as long as possible as they exploit and milk the country’s resources for their personal and sectional benefits until it is pronounced dead. There is also a relatively small but influential group who selfishly insist on the prevailing status quo because they are benefiting from the system and situations.

Fortunately, the vast majority of Nigerians recognize the great potential of this country and the huge benefits of such a potentially great African nation. We should team up with this group to ensure the survival of the Nigerian experiment, despite its British colonial origin. We must create the necessary political and structural changes that will produce a Nigerian nation that would be a source of satisfaction and pride for all Nigerians irrespective of their ethnic and religious orientation. We desperately need a selfless, visionary and committed leadership.

Undoubtedly, there is no shortage of leadership materials in Nigeria today. There are several first class potential national leaders from all parts of Nigeria, but the system and the nature of our politics does not inspire and sustain such quality leadership and the ethnic factor has not helped matters. Ethnicity is still an impediment to the development of the Nigerian nation of our dream. It is also a major African problem, especially in multi-ethnic nations like Nigeria. This is why we still talk about an Igbo President, a Yoruba President, a Hausa-Fulani President, an Ijaw President and so on. Nigeria as a modern nation would triumph the day we elect national leaders entirely on the basis of their personal merits and attributes, without considering the ethnic factor.

We have some lessons to learn from the American system that produced an Obama who is an African-American with a father who is a Luo from Kenya. Interestingly, in Kenya today, it would have been virtually impossible for the Kikuyu and other Kenyan ethnic groups to elect an Obama, a Luo as President, just as Nigerians are not in a hurry to elect an 19bo or an Eastern Nigerian as President, 49 years after independence. The prayer of most well meaning Nigerians is that God should give us an enlightened leadership from any part of Nigeria, who will take us to the Promised Land, sooner than later.

To accelerate our national reformation process, we should produce a truly Nigerian Peoples’ Constitution that is genuinely federal and in line with our Independence Constitution formulated and adopted by our visionary and politically wise founding fathers who took into account the fears, interests and cultural disposition of the country’s ethnic groups. Such a constitution should create structures and institutions that will eliminate those areas that create social injustice and instability. Nigerians are now more politically mature and fully conscious of their rights and interests. Above all, they demand more selfless and committed leaders and a truly democratic process based on the rule of law and credible elections.

They demand good governance and less expensive governments. The present situation in which the cost of governance is above 80% of the annual budget, with less than 20% for development, cannot be right for a developing nation like Nigeria, if we really want to grow and survive in the highly competitive world environment of the 21st century.

Finally, we should embark urgently on some form of National reconciliation strategy. We are now 49 years old as an independent nation, and next year we will celebrate our 50th Anniversary. Considering our huge national and human endowments, most Nigerians and friends of Nigeria believe that we have not done very well as a nation. In all my recent books about Nigeria, I have made a strong case for a genuine national reconciliation strategy devoid of any form of political hypocrisy and rancour. Some people with influence, integrity and authority should take up this national assignment before our 50th independence celebration as part of the way forward. This national reconciliation strategy is necessary for several reasons. There are too many angry members of the Nigerian Family. In any African family in which there are many aggrieved persons, the Elders generally intervene by convening a Family Reconciliation meeting for the reconciliation of all the aggrieved members so that the family does not disintegrate. As part of the reconciliation exercise, the Elders will ensure that the perceived injustices that provoked the anger are eliminated in the interest of unity, peace and stability.

The best insurance against anarchy, violence, militancy and instability is JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS FOR ALL. A good Nigerian Constitution, with the right political structures that take into account the interests of all sections of the country and a national reconciliation strategy as suggested will be steps in the right direction as we move towards our 50th Anniversary as a modern 21st Century African nation.

You were alleged to have supported the third term project of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo. What is the true position?

The Third Term issue came up when I was President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The official position of Ohanaeze under my leadership, which I supported and propagated, was that the Nigerian Constitution provides for a four-year term, subject to a possible second term of another four years and no more. This was the Ohanaeze position and as President-General, I supported this official position and signed a memorandum supporting this constitutional provision.

At no time did I support the third term concept. The rest is now history and if you read my book mentioned earlier, you will get all the details. At that time in our national political history, the third term issue was a potent political instrument, which some people utilized as a weapon to discredit those who did not share their political aspirations. This was the context in which the so-called allegation to which you referred featured. The allegation was false and sections of the media were used to distort and disseminate the falsehood. In the interest of unity, progress and development, we prefer to forget such divisive distractions in order to avoid chasing shadows and in the process lose out on the substantive national issues.

What is your take on the state of the Igbo nation in Nigeria today and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo question?

When you requested me to grant you an interview, you stated that the interview was about Nigeria at 49 and how we have fared as a Nation since independence, but now you have now moved on to the Igbo Nation and Ohanaeze, and the question is so heavily loaded that it will take time and space to do justice to your question. Luckily, 1 have written a comprehensive book on the subject. The book in question is titled: Nation building and ethnic organisations: The case of Ohanaeze in Nigeria. This book was published in February 2007 when 1 resigned as President-General of Ohanaeze after dedication of the Conference Hall, Library and Auditorium, which I built with my hard earned personal resources, and donated to Ohanaeze in memory of two eminent Nigerians, and great leaders, who are my eternal role models.

These two leaders are Akanu Ibiam and Dr. Pius Okigbo, who played important roles in my life as a young man. In the case of Dr. Akanu Ibiam, he was the President-General of Ohanaeze immediately after the Nigerian Civil War and because of his impact on me at an early stage in my life, promised his family, when I became President-General of Ohanaeze, that 1 will build an auditorium for Ohanaeze in his memory. In the case of Dr. Pius Okigbo, he virtually dragged me to Ohanaeze meetings for well over twenty years, and 1 am sure that if he had been alive, my tenure as President-General would have been a lot more fulfilling. 1 built and equipped the library in the Ohanaeze Secretariat in his memory.

In specific answer to your questions on the Igbo Nation in Nigeria, I invite you to read my book on the subject. For the present exercise, 1 would say that you cannot discuss the Igbo Nation today outside the context of the Nigerian Nation. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation made up of well over 200 ethnic groups, with three or four major ethnic nationalities running into several millions, of which the Igbos are one, the success of Nigeria is the success of the Igbos. If Nigeria is “fixed” to the satisfaction of the various ethnic groups that make up the country, the Igbos will naturally be happy.

My understanding is that every Igbo person is anxious to see a better Nigerian nation in which all ethnic groups will feel a total sense of belonging. Like other ethnic groups, they demand better institutions and good governance based on justice for all under a true democracy and the rule of law with equal opportunities for all Nigerians. Part of Nigeria’s strength lies in its immense cultural diversity and the rich culture of its many ethnic nationalities. The greatest strength of the Igbos, which is also a national asset, is that they are generally creative, industrious, hard working and enterprising.

These endowments are also Nigeria’s national assets as well as the strength and weakness of the Igbos as a group in the sense that the kind of individualism, these virtues generate, most times work against the collective or group interests of the people. Arising from this individualism, the position now, especially amongst the vocal post-civil war Igbo leadership elite, is that when they are not actively engaged in pursuing their personal or individual interests, they tend to dissipate their energy and resources in personal squabbles to the detriment of their collective interests as a group.

As we contemplate the future, my plea is that we should devote our energy and resources in promoting mutual respect and unity amongst ourselves and our neighbours and in building goodwill and understanding with Nigerians from other ethnic groups. We now live in the 21st century in which knowledge is power. There is a lot of merit in the Igbo concept of “Ako-na-Uche” which means tact, wisdom and good sense as a way of life, as against avoidable and divisive confrontations. This was the policy we promoted, during my tenure as President-General of Ohanaeze. Our bridge-building policy of friendship and goodwill, founded on the ancient principles of Igbo social justice, earned for Ndigbo at that time, great respect and goodwill from Nigerians of other ethnic groups. This was most evident during the 2005 National Political Reform Conference.

The unique achievements of that Conference, which included a unanimous agreement to create at least one more state in the South East Zone, on grounds of justice and equity, was aborted due to that absence of the desired political will on the part of the nation’, political leadership. As regards your question on Ohanaeze, the answer is there are several ethnic organizations in Nigeria today and Ohanaeze is one of them. It was established as an umbrella organization for Igbo speaking Nigerians, just as we have Arewa, Afenifere, Ibibio State Union and Ijaw National Conference, to mention just a few.

It is unfortunate that the prevailing political environment makes it necessary for us to have these ethnic and sub-national organizations; primarily because most ordinary Nigerians maintain that these organizations offer them the kind of political and social protection they believe they cannot get from Federations Administrations. This is not good enough. Those of us, who are patriotic and passionate about Nigeria, hope and expect that we will soon evolve a national political culture that would make unnecessary for Nigerians to resort to the umbrella protection of their ethnic organizations. Until then, I am afraid that these ethnic organizations will continue to perform their protective social and political roles.

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