As many Nigerians welcome the convocation of the National Conference, a former member of the defunct Constituent Assembly and a university don, Prof. Aja Okorie, has said those calling for break up may be doing so because of selfishness and do not know where it would lead the country.
He spoke on various issues and cautioned that there would be mass movement if the President tried to sweep the outcome of the conference under the carpet. Excerpts:
In my opinion, it should not be Sovereign National Conference because the problem with it is that when you call it sovereign, Nigeria can break up; some
components can decide to break away. I do not think that Nigeria should break up, rather I think that Nigeria should dialogue to discuss all the political issues but not including break up of Nigeria. The United States is very important because of its size, China is important because of its size and diversity; even Russia and Germany.
You said Nigeria should not break-up, what then should be the solution to Nigeria’s problem?
People are calling for break-up because of bad governance, dishonesty and corruption of leadership at all levels. I don’t subscribe to break-up because if you try to break up, the Eastern Region won’t even be together; you will find out that the South-South would want to break up; maybe West will try to keep together. You will find out that the Middle Belt would want to break up, North East and North West would want to break-up and we would make a mess of Nigeria. None of these components will wield the influence of things that attributed to Nigeria as giant of Africa.
Those who are calling for break up, if there are any, I think they are calling for break up because of selfishness; they don’t know where the break up will reach because it can now split us into 10 and what are we going to gain. The diversity which is our strength can be used to strengthen Nigeria. I earlier told you that the solution is to stop corruption and reduce to minimum if not to zero. All corrupt leaders present and past should be brought to book because if we end corruption, people will stop agitation. And then if we bring in equity and justice and if the institutions are working, Nigeria will be growing. When you get to the judiciary, you don’t get justice if you haven’t stolen money to give to lawyers. So, why people are calling for break up like I said is because of bad governance arising from the corrupt institutions that are not working. What we need to minimize corruption is good leadership and federal character; we need equity, we need merit to put the right people in the right places; that is the solution and these issues are what we need to discuss.
We have universities that can’t produce good graduates to take care of the people; you find us going to China to go and learn how to plant rice, how to make machine for parboiling rice. We have to go to Arab countries to get Arab contractors to build our roads. It is a shame we have so many engineers and we can’t build our roads and the people who try to build our roads would want to get 250 percent gain and people who give them the contract take more than 100 percent up front. These are things we should look at. How do you make our judicial system work, how do you make our educational system work, how do you make the health system people look at the capital flight in terms of medical tourism. Now, we are having the first open heart surgery and not even done by the Nigerian doctors in Ibadan and we claim to be the giant of Africa. You find our students going to Ghana for university education. When we were in the universities in 70s, Ghanaians were coming to Nigerian universities. These are issues now government says it doesn’t have N500 billion to give to all federal and state universities for upgrade of equipment of hostels but government has money to waste for pilgrimage and for hajj. Government has money for one minister to buy one or two cars for up to N250 million and this is the sort of country we are in and nobody is being fired. So, corruption like Carrington said is the bane of Nigeria; it is not an issue of breaking up, it is the issue of tackling corruption and tackling corruption cannot come from the grassroots. It has to come from the presidency, from governors, ministers to commissioners and local government chairmen and if the presidency does his work with his executives, the governors and governors do it with their commissioners and the local government chairmen, Nigerians won’t be asking for a break up. So, it is corruption, building institutions and getting our educational and health system work.
Don’t you think that this is another jamboree where the decisions could be swept under the carpet?
Well people call it diversionary tactics of the President but what I will say is that Nigerians should not allow this to go like others. Nigerians should have a silent revolution; there should be mass movement if the President tries to sweep it under the carpet and I don’t think it should be subjected to National Assembly because National Assembly is one of the institutions that is not working. This is because when the National Assembly is there, they went around and said they want constitution review and people gave their opinion. Even at the state level, there was a lot of manipulation and of course, 90 percent of people at the National Assembly were not elected; they were selected. So, some of us don’t have confidence in National Assembly to do anything and the process of selecting those that would go for this National Dialogue or conference should not be influenced by government and the decisions should be implemented by the presidency the way majority have agreed upon for the survival of Nigeria. When it goes to the Senate, there will be manipulations; they will take voice vote instead of using electronic vote. Nigerians should stand up like they stood up about the oil subsidy; that is my position because if Nigerians say no and come out en-masse and insist that the outcome of the national dialogue should be implemented, it should be implemented. Like I said before, the issue of break up, the issue of sovereignty of Nigeria should be no go area. It will not help us, China is very big America is very big Germany is very big by European standard and that is what we need in Nigeria.
How would the members be selected?
They should be genuinely elected not like the PDP style. From the grassroots without what happens in normal political elections because INEC is a problem. If we cannot select those people without government interference, there is no need for National dialogue. So, that selection process is very important. People should be selected by their communities, constituencies without undue influence from any ruling party or opposition in the country. People should be allowed and we should be careful with people we select and the committee should draw out clear criteria for this selection process because it I important it is what we put in there we get out. If it is another political jamboree, then Nigeria should not waste its money and in fact, it could have been better if this National conference has come after 2015 with the new Assembly to be elected.
What do you suggest should be the Igbo agenda?
Well, it depends upon how the thing is set up. I think the major contribution I will be making is complete eradication of corruption making sure that the institutions are working and the judiciary making sure that the Armed forces are not influenced by politics. They are not corrupt because when these two things are working, legal and security agencies and when corruption is minimized, the issue of being an Ibo man or not being an Ibo man will not arise. When you look at United States, when you move from one state to another, after six months, you can contest election. I will want a situation where census is done properly, when the population commission includes ethnicity into the data they collate and also religion. This is because we ought to know, we need to know how many Muslims, how many Christians and how many other denominations we have in Nigeria and we ought to know how many Ibo people who are living in Kano and in Lagos. We need the true census, as a basis for planning that will show us all the details. Why should we have a census when we don’t know how many Ibo people that live in Lagos and Kano, why should we have a census when we don’t know how many Muslims or Hausa are living in Ebonyi state? I like a situation where a person after living in a state or even a local government for five years should be able to contest election. I am talking about the issue of indigene or what makes one to be qualified to enjoy the facilities there. Now, they count you to say that the population of Kano or Lagos is like this and then when the amenities come, you are excluded, you are not allowed to contest, you are not allowed to get land and yet you are supposed to be among the people making up the number.
Source: Radio Biafra.